The Path to Working Less & Earning More | Karl Sakas

"If you want your team to make decisions without asking every single time, they need to know at least three things - your company's values, goals, and resources." Karl Sakas, Episode 114

Everyone wants to work less and earn more…

But what strategies can leaders use to make that a reality?

Karl Sakas is here to discuss his new book, “Work Less, Earn More: How to Escape the Daily Grind of Agency Ownership.”

Karl will share:

  • 3 questions to figure out your ideal

  • Why & how to get your team to take over tasks for you

  • The benefit of premortems

  • How to set SMART goals

  • The best way to hold yourself accountable

  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Karl Sakas: So the more the team understands your unique values, goals and resources and client’s related VGR is where applicable, they’re not going to ask you every single time. And then you only get the sort of really interesting challenging questions that you couldn’t have pre addressed.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast with professional speaker, coach and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome everybody to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. My name is Nicole Greer, and they call me the vibrant coach and I am here with a friend, a colleague and a fellow speaker. Karl Sakas and I have been in the NSA Carolinas, the National Speakers Association of the Carolinas, together for umpteen years. And just like two, three weeks ago, you know, I was like, Karl, what’s up? He’s like I got a new book. I’m like, dude, you gotta be on my podcast. So I would like to welcome Karl to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. But before we get started, Karl, will you share with us what’s going on with you and how we met? And maybe a little bit about your company?

Karl: Absolutely. Absolutely. So hi, Karl Sakas here. Excited to be joining the program. You know, so Nicole, we met through NSA Carolinas, the North and South Carolina chapter of the National Speakers Association. You know, in my work, I help people who run marketing agencies make smarter decisions for smoother growth. I do that as an executive coach, as a business consultant, and as a trainer, working with marketing agencies all over the world. Earlier today, I had a call with a client in Dubai. So far, I’ve worked with hundreds of agencies, one on one in 36 countries on every inhabited continent. 

Nicole: Crazy good. 

Karl: Yeah. And, you know, I come to this work with a background in agency operations. You know, I was an agency project manager, a Director of Client Services, a director of operations. So, you know, my work is very much focused on agencies as a services business, professional services organization. But certainly the advice that I share in the Work Less, Earn More book applies to anyone who’s in some sort of a leadership or managerial role.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Well, everybody loves this title. Hello, let me repeat it. Work Less, Earn More. Everybody’s going to love that. So that’s fantastic. Well, I am collecting definitions of leadership. And I think it takes a great deal of leadership to figure out how to work less and earn more. So will you tell us a little bit about your take on leadership?

Karl: So I actually wrote a bit about this in my second book. Work Less, Earn More is book number three. Second book Made to Lead, A Pocket Guide to Managing Marketing and Creative Agencies. I actually raised a contrarian view there, which is, does it really matter the difference between leadership and management? Now, you know, we could say that management is about getting the job done. 

And leadership is a bit more about inspiration, right. Recognizing that people don’t have to be there. I’ve seen that, especially in my volunteering. For instance, as President of a Marketing Association, we had 700 members. Of those 100 are volunteers, and of that 100, 15 were on the executive board. So you know, there’s nothing in terms of, you know, training for leadership, around motivating and inspiring and leading 100 people who don’t have to be there at all. You know, how do you find ways to get them excited and contribute to the overall direction. 

So I think we could say leadership is more about inspiration, and recognizing that people don’t have to be there. But here’s the thing. It’s hard to be a successful leader if you don’t also build your management skills, because it’ll be all inspiration and no follow through. And the same thing, if you’re a manager, it’s hard to succeed as a manager, if you weren’t thinking from an inspiration standpoint as a leader as well. So to me, you need both.

Nicole: Yeah, and I couldn’t agree more. I believe in everything you’re saying. Yeah. So it is leadership could be that it’s more inspirational and everything, but you got to have your skills in place. And the thing I love about your book, let me repeat, Work Less, Earn More, is, you know, you have to have a leadership mindset. Like where am I taking this company, this agency, this department. 

So he said he works with marketing agencies, but don’t miss this people. I want to make sure you’re still hanging in there is that this can help you if you run a department, you run an entire organization, you’re the CEO. So we’ll help you. So you got to have the vision and then you got to have the carry through and we’re gonna get to a concept and just a little bit everybody, where he talks about what kind of style do you have? Are you a starter? Or are you a finisher? So you want to hear about that. That’s in chapter three. 

All right, well, let’s start in chapter one. So chapter one of his book, he talks about figuring out your ideal. And guess what, you’re entitled to have your ideal situation and Karl can help you. So what are the three questions that a leader needs, or a leader manager needs to ask themselves to get their ideal figured out?

Karl: Well, you know, keeping in mind that for everyone listening, your ideal future is going to be unique to you. Here’s some questions to consider first. What does it really mean if you want to work less and earn more? What does work less look like? Is that going from 80 hours a week to 60 hours a week? Is it going from 40 down to 15? Is it retiring altogether? Get clear on what that looks like for you. Because that could be different for each person. Also, that includes if you identify as a workaholic, you know, do you want to change? You know, you can continue as you are, if you like. 

But if it’s become a problem that may make sense to get some additional support. You also want to look at what does it really mean to earn more. For some people earn more might be, for instance, in my work less earn more bootcamp, some people might say they’re making $200,000 a year now, and they want to make half a million dollars a year in the future. Other people might say they’re making 75. And they want to get to 150. And some people report, they want to make a million dollars a year in terms of their compensation. 

So keep in mind that earn more varies, and you have to go with what’s right for you. Do keep in mind that for instance, if you’re running a business, and your total revenue is a million a year, and you want to personally make that as your income, you’re gonna have to grow the revenue to make that all work out. Next, consider what’s your growth style. Do you lean toward if you’re a business owner, running a lifestyle-oriented business where the goal is good income and do the work you like? 

Or do you lean more toward an equity-oriented business where the goal is to sell? And it’s not necessarily to keep it going forever. And also consider your growth personality type? Do you lean toward what I would call being a maximizer? Growth at any cost. Or an optimizer? Where it’s more about the return on investment for your time, where, yes, you want to grow, but you’re thinking about what are the inputs it’s going to take. Don’t grow at any cost, grow at a cost that you are comfortable investing.

Nicole: That’s fantastic questions. All right. So you can figure out your ideal. And, you know, a couple of other questions were sprinkled in that chapter. One was, you know, I love this one so much is, you know, when you’re you might be frustrated, right? And you picked up picked up Karl’s book Work Less, Earn More, there’s a little underlying idea that you might be a little frustrated. And I think it’s good to revisit this question that I found in chapter one, which was, why did you start this whole thing in the first place? Why did you take this job in the first place? That question I think is so stinking good. Like, why are you doing what you’re doing? I think that’s huge.

Karl: Exactly. And you know, different people as you consider that question, you might find that the reason you started is still true, but the results aren’t what you expected. It could also be a case where you know, the thing that you wanted at the beginning, maybe you want something different now, but maybe you’re okay with where things are. So, you know, consider why did you get into this when you started. Has that changed, as you’ve, you know, discovered the reality. One potential client said, when I asked why did she start her agency? She said, if my boss was going to be an idiot, I might as well be that idiot herself. Yeah. So you need to find what’s right for you.

Nicole: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And then I think the other question that I thought was genius that you had in the book, and you’re gonna want to write this down people is, so once you figure out where you are, remember why you started this whole thing, why you picked this job, why you picked this business. The other question you had was, what would it take to bridge the gap between where you are and that ideal? That’s just zeroing right in. I love that, Karl.

Karl: Exactly. Consider for instance, if you’re in a managerial role, and one of the things you really value is autonomy, the autonomy to make decisions about how you’re running your department or your division, or what have you, but there’s someone above you, are they giving you autonomy? And does the autonomy maybe that you want, how far is that away? What’s the gap between what you want versus where it is now? You know, if you have a boss who doesn’t really seem to trust you, for whatever reason, they’re probably not magically going to give you all the autonomy you want. 

And in that case, you may have to shift to different company, if it’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, maybe the gap is much smaller. You know, maybe say if you’re looking to increase your income, and the goal is to increase it 10%. So probably do that in your current organization. So consider where are you today? Where do you want to be? And is that gap, something you can address in your current situation?

Nicole: So good, so good. And you even have in chapter one kind of an original vision versus reality exercise. So let’s talk about how the book is set up. And I know you also have a workbook. So these things that we’re gonna talk about, you could actually go through and get it all mapped out.

Karl: Exactly. Yes. You know, for people, if you if you get the book, you can get free access to a workbook, which is at this point, 40 plus pages of different exercises, tools, resources, drawing from what’s in the book. And all of that is informed by my 90 day work less earn more bootcamp. So instead of having to sign up for the bootcamp, you can get a significant portion of it at a low cost from buying the book, and then getting the free workbook. So for instance, one of those tools that’s in the workbook, and you can get all of this, by the way at

So if you go to, you can get a link to buy the book, it’s available in various formats on Amazon worldwide. And you could also get a free chapter to check it out. And also sign up for the workbook. So I think the tool you’re referring to is my advanced retrospective. That’s where you visualize the future before it’s happened. And the goal here is to help you get clear on where do you want to go, and then figure out where you can when you need to, to fill in the gaps to get there. 

So that’s one of the templates in there. And it’s one of those simple yet powerful exercises. The opening sentence is this: pick a future date, perhaps five years in the future. And see, maybe it’s the end of the year. So you know, today is December 31st and then fill in the year, five years in the future, it’s a great day because. And just write from there. There’s no specific length it needs to be. Some people might write a few paragraphs. other people, when I ask them to do this, they’ll write pages and pages. 

And if you also find that you’re not as excited about what you’re writing about, it may make sense to potentially change direction. Or if you’re considering, say, two different versions. Maybe for instance, are you trying to decide if you own a business, do you want to sell it? Or do you want to keep running it? Write two different advanced retrospectives. One where you’ve sold it, and things have gone well, and the other where you’re continuing to run it and things are going well. 

One of those is likely going to be a lot more fun to write. And that may help you decide which direction to go in. Same thing, if you’re trying to decide do you stay at your current organization, or do you potentially leave to go to another one? Write two different advanced retrospectives, and compare what was it like to do each one.

Nicole: That’s so good, yeah. We have to slow down and we have to take stock of where we are, we have to use our imagination. Because you can’t get somewhere if you haven’t dreamt up where you’re headed, right. It’s like going on vacation. You can’t get to the Bahamas, if you haven’t done your research, you haven’t sat down, you can’t imagine yourself on the beach. So you got to do all this. 

Alright, so chapter one is about your ideal. And I think that is so foundational, so fantastic. And then you go into chapter two, and you begin to talk about the four stages of day to day involvement. And I think it’s going to really illuminate some people’s brains and their Outlook calendars. So let’s talk a little bit about what that means, the four stages of day to day involvement. What are they?

Karl: So and you can consider you know, as people are listening along the idea of a fuel gauge or a gas gauge, right where it’s going from empty up to full. So there are four stages on the day to day involvement meter that I’ve identified. You know, when you get started in your business, or maybe you get started in a new leadership role, working at a company, you are mandatory. You are mandatory for everything getting done. You know, you can barely get away without something blowing up. Then you might shift to necessary. You were necessary. You can you know, you’re getting things done, your team is helping. They’re making decisions without you. They’re not always good decisions, but you’re not having to do every single thing the way it was when you’re mandatory. 

So you go from mandatory to necessary. Now if you keep going along that trajectory, you manage to become needed, not necessary and in that case, things are going pretty smoothly. You can go on vacation, things keep running you know, on their own. You’re not going to disappear entirely. But you know, there are a lot fewer fires. You’re able to think of rather than being the firefighter, you’re the fire marshal, preventing the future fires, rather than putting them out yourself, getting on the truck. 

And if you want, you can pursue becoming, and this is, especially if you’re running a business, but it also applies if you’re trying to get promoted, you know, we’ve got mandatory is stage one, necessary as stage two, needed as stage three. You can pursue stage four, which I would call optional. When you are optional, you’re just that. Either you can sell your business or you can keep running it on a lifestyle basis, because you don’t have to be there all the time. And that also applies if you’re trying to get promoted. Right? If you’ve made yourself optional in your current role, your boss isn’t going to be thinking, well, I can never promote them, because then I’d never get the work done. 

No, you’ve figured out a way in terms of your process and delegation and things like that. So those are the four stages. And consider, you know, for everyone listening, what stage are you in now? Are you mostly mandatory? Are you necessary? Are you needed? Are you optional? And that could vary by role. For instance, in my work with agency owners, sometimes people may be optional for day-to-day client fulfillment, but they’re still mandatory for the sales process, things like that. So you can be in different stages, but try to identify where are you now? And where do you want to be? Because then you can work backwards to get there.

Nicole: I love it. I love it. And the thing that you’re saying about optional and, you know, unfortunately, I don’t have to tell you this, Karl, but for those of you listening, it’s curious to me, why people, they don’t want to work themselves out of a job. Like there’s like a weird worry in corporate America, like I can’t tell everybody my secrets. Because, you know, I don’t want somebody younger than me or somebody with a Harvard degree to come in here and take over. 

But really, I love what you said about, you know, you don’t want your leader, your leader to look and say I could never promote them. I could never put them in this more specialized place because nobody knows how to do what they do. I just really wanted to emphasize that. That is pure genius, to put yourself in a position where you become optional. So good. All right. Well, everybody’s going well, that’s really nice, Karl, but tell us how. And I know that you have at least two strategies. One is swim lanes. And the other one is VGRs. So will you tell us about those?

Karl: Absolutely. So say if you’re currently mandatory, and you’re stage one, and you want to get to stage two necessary. The key to that is defining what I would call swim lanes. That is who is in charge of what? And importantly, what are the areas where someone isn’t getting involved, right, if you think about a swimming pool with swim lanes, you know, it’s stay in your lane. Now, depending on the size of your organization, the smaller the organization, the fuzzier the swim lanes tend to be. And in a bigger organizations that there tends to be a bit more clarity, but make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what the lanes are. 

And it helps to have a formal conversation about this, ideally, potentially facilitated by a coach or someone else to help you figure out what should the swim lanes be. For instance, a sales inquiry comes in, who’s in charge of doing the initial screening, and then who’s doing the further qualification after that. And who’s doing the consulting work and the scoping to figure out what they need and who’s doing the proposal and things like that. You know, in the early days, if you’re running your own business, you’re probably doing all of that. 

But as you grow, you probably don’t want to keep doing all of that. Nicole, with a client recently, where he mentioned that he was spending a lot of time on time wasters. These are sales prospects that weren’t ready to buy. Sometimes didn’t have money, kind of thing. And so part of his goal is to get someone in to do that initial screening, right? That’s the case where the swim lane is such where someone else is in charge of the pre-qualification, and then he gets involved. The risk if you don’t define swim lanes is that two people are jumping on the same thing, because they think they’re both in charge of it. 

Or maybe worse, no one jumps on it. And that sales opportunity that could have potentially been the springboard to major growth in your business slips through the cracks. So clarify your swim lanes if you want to go from mandatory stage one to necessary stage two. Now, Nicole, you’d mentioned another piece around values, goals and resources, or VGR. This is my concept about helping your team read your mind. And this is especially helpful if you want to go from stage two necessary to stage three needed. The idea of values, goals and resources are this. 

If you want your team to make decisions without asking you every single time, they need to know at least three things, and I’ve summarized those into values, goals and resources, or VGR. Values are the values to consider as they’re making decisions. How does your organization choose to operate? For instance, do you lean toward being very blunt when you deliver some kind of information? Or is it more of a very, you know, sort of touchy-feely kind of thing. Like, make sure they’re following the values. 

For instance, if you were, I don’t know, say running a mental health practice, you probably would lean more toward a high warmth experience, rather than, say, a client misses an appointment, you’re probably not going to yell at them, kind of thing. On the other hand, there may be some businesses where that kind of thing is the right approach. Make sure they know the values to follow. Then consider what are the goals? What are your business-level goals? What are the departmental goals that they’re doing work on clients or customers. What are the client’s goals or the customer’s goals? The more they know about those, the less they have to ask you every single time. 

And then finally, when it comes to the third piece in values, goals and resources, resources are, what resources do they have available to get things done. For instance, that could include time in their calendar, it could include software programs, it could include a database that has the answers they might need. And it also could include budgets for them to spend to get things done. 

So the more the team understands your unique values, goals and resources and client’s related VGRs where applicable, they’re not going to ask you every single time. And then you only get the sort of really interesting, challenging questions that you couldn’t have pre addressed. If you’re getting interrupted all day long, adopt a VGR with your team. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Nicole: That is money right there. Everybody, everybody say thank you, thank you, Karl. He can’t hear you, but in your car, just say a little thank you out loud. That’s perfect.

Karl: I can hear the echo.

Nicole: That’s good. That’s good. All right. So that’s chapter two, which is all about the four stages of day-to-day involvement. So you got to figure that out. So wow, that’s really rich. All right. Now, I love chapter three as well, because you talk about growing the support for your team. And you say without a team, you don’t have an agency. But for all of you listening, you can fill in the blank with something else without a team, you don’t have a business, a department a team, period. All right. So talk to us a little bit about supporting the team. How do we need to do that better and differently?

Karl: Well ultimately, you know, your team doesn’t have to be there. You know, we were talking earlier about management versus leadership, somebody was just recognizing that people have options. And if you have a team member who doesn’t have options, I don’t know if they’re really the right team member for you. If they feel like, well, they can’t get a job anywhere else. So they’re going to do a job for you. Probably not the best team member to have. But you know, one of the biggest things around getting support from your team is recognizing are you what I would call a starter or a finisher. 

And so the idea there is that, you know, some people may be a mix of both, but you’re probably going to lean toward one rather than the other. Starter, that’s the person who is getting things going. Inspiring others. Maybe really enjoys sales, or recruiting, or coming up with new ideas or getting things initiated, those are the starters. A finisher, on the other hand is the person who loves finishing the job. Right? They don’t necessarily want to be the one to start it, but once things are going, they love managing the details and turning that vision into reality. Now, as you might imagine, those roles go together. 

A starter needs a finisher and a finisher needs a starter. And if you’ve got a situation where stuff just isn’t happening, take a look within your organization. Are you potentially missing one of those roles? You know, a lot of business owners are in the starter role, they get things started, but they need someone to follow along with with the details. That’s usually where an operations person comes in. Or a number two, you know, likewise, maybe, you know, things aren’t getting done, but no one’s like getting people started in the first place. Like they’re like, hey, we’re ready to implement the plan. 

But it isn’t always the right plan. Maybe you need a starter as well. And of course, that can change over time. You know, in my work, having been a project manager for instance, you know, often I was serving in the finisher role. But now as I’m running my own business for the past decade, you know, I am the starter within the business. So take a look at how it’s going. And if there are some gaps, if things aren’t getting done, see where you might fill it in by bringing in a starter and/or finisher.

Nicole: I love it. I love it. And so that was the style that I was talking about at the beginning of the podcast. And then you can find it in chapter three, everybody. So that’s great. And then another thing you say in that chapter is making sure that you’ve got the right infrastructure, and you have three things that you think everybody should consider. So again, whether you’re an agency owner, department head, CEO, processes, policies, and software. Okay, just a hot quick second on those because everywhere I go, we need stuff written down, so people know what to do.

Karl: Exactly, exactly. And you know, infrastructure is, is often the least fun part of the business or running a team or department. But it needs to happen. Ideally, you have at least one person on your team who loves infrastructure. A friend was at a large corporation, she was very interested in building infrastructure within the team, her boss was not until her boss’s boss said, we need to build the infrastructure. And suddenly, my friend was now the hero, because she could save the day, do the infrastructure stuff that the boss suddenly was prioritizing. 

And we can see infrastructure in three categories. Processes, have you documented how things need to get done? Where do you need to change your existing processes? Just because you have a process doesn’t mean that it’s the right process. You know, things may have changed. Ideally, you’re optimizing those. And you don’t want to change them all the time, but, you know, they also shouldn’t be static forever. What about policies? 

For instance, if you’re working in a client-facing role, what is the turnaround time that you’re promising to your clients? What is included scope wise, what’s not included? That kind of thing. And then software around, you know, ideally, once you have the processes and the policies down, your software is going to support that, right. Don’t just run out and implement a project management system or accounting software or something until you figure out the right process and the right policies. Otherwise, you risk automating garbage, and that’s not good.

Nicole: Yeah. And, you know, I love what you’re saying, because so many of the folks I work with are human resource folks. And they are inundated with get this, you know, shiny thing, software or whatever. And what I hear all the time is we have way more software than we have capacity to use, right? So sometimes if you don’t figure out like, don’t don’t use what Karl said, everybody. He said, figure out your policies, your procedures, you know, your ideal chapter one. And then what software will support all this because I’ve heard people say, it’s got more bells and whistles than we know what to do with. Or we don’t have enough people to even run this software, so.

Karl: Then you feel guilty that you’re not using it. And my number one suggestion, if someone comes to me saying, you know, given my project management background, we’re thinking of changing PM software, which is the best one? Well, there’s not a single best one. I actually have an article about PM software options. And it is up to 86 different tools. And I keep adding more, right. Like, I want it to be a comprehensive list. And there actually been more than that there are some that have gone out of business over the years. So you know, there are a lot and there isn’t one best option. The key is to find the best for you, given the circumstances. And I have an article about choosing project management software. And there are 22 steps if you want to get it right.

Nicole: Fantastic. Even more. Don’t miss all the resources, people. Where do they find these articles, Karl? Where do they go get them?

Karl: So all of the articles are, the follow-up pieces are at That’s S as in Sam, a k a s, a n d, the word But if you go to that will bring you into the website and you can get the book resources from work less earn more. And see beyond that as well.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah, I was working with a gentleman and I’ve been using Basecamp which familiar with I’ve been using this thing forever. I totally love it. And he was working with me on a project. He’s like, oh, you should switch. I like no, this I don’t need Cadillac. I like my Toyota I’m working with right now. I’m totally good. So anyway. Yeah, find one stick with it. Get all your stuff, put in your project management stuff. All right. All right. So chapter four. This is where we get into the title of the book, so don’t miss it. All right, work less, earn more. And so this is the chapter four is the work less chapter snf in there, you have a concept I want to highlight if it’s okay, about pre-mortem. So we know post-mortems. We know about those maybe. Isn’t that an army term, post-mortem?

Karl: I mean, I know, my parents were both career army officers. 

Nicole: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.

Karl: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I think my dad described it, you know, the idea of doing a, you know, an after action debrief, right. You’ve done the mission, and now you’re reviewing and it’s really, if you’re doing a debrief or a post-mortem, it’s three simple yet powerful questions. What worked, what didn’t work, and what are we going to do differently next time. 

And I do debriefs with my team after each event, after each project or ongoing retainer engagement. There’s always something we can learn, of course, then you need to do something about it. And you had mentioned the concept of a pre-mortem, which I talked about in the book. What if you could get the benefits of what worked? What didn’t? And what will we do differently next time before you even start? And that is where the pre-mortem comes in. 

Nicole: That’s fantastic. 

Karl: You basically take a look at, let’s say things either went really poorly. Okay, what might those have been? And then how can we prevent that? You also want to take a look in the pre-mortem of what if things go really, really well. But like too well. For instance, I had a client years ago, was a Director of Client Services at an agency. We hosted his website. And we were trying to get him to upgrade his website hosting. He was so good at his marketing promos. He would send an email out about doing a sale or this or that. The site would get overwhelmed with traffic and actually take the whole site down. 

Yeah, so that was the case where his promos were so successful that the hosting couldn’t keep up. Now, he didn’t want to upgrade to more expensive, more robust hosting, which proved to be a separate issue. But you know, a pre-mortem is looking at what could go wrong, and what could go really right. And then importantly, you have to decide what to do next. You don’t need a plan B for every single scenario. 

But I’d look at two types of scenarios around, what do we do now. If something based on the pre-mortem, you find a concern, that is very likely to happen, you should probably sort out a plan for that. There’s a second category, though, of things that may be very unlikely to happen. But if they did happen, it would be catastrophic. So small chance, but if it happened, it would be really, really bad. And so you know, I mean, that would be things like homeowners insurance. 

The odds are your house is not going to burn down. Or you know, other things like that aren’t going to happen. But if it did, it would be really bad. And so that’s why you have the insurance. So pre-mortem, take a look at what might happen that goes really well or really poorly, and then make a plan B for things that are likely to happen, or that or would be catastrophic if they did happen.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. I love that. Okay, so put that in your leadership management toolkit, the pre-mortem, and the oldie but goodie, the post-mortem. Now, you also have an oldie but goodie in this chapter, but I mean, like, I’m still surprised places I go groups I work with, they don’t know about smart goals. 

Karl: Yes. 

Nicole: So you talk about smart goals make you smarter. But then also you have a little twist. And again, I love this. So be a smartie. So will you talk a little bit about smart goals and then being a smartie?

Karl: Exactly. Well, you know, if you’re frustrated that people on your team aren’t getting things done, I would take a look at you know, are you giving them SMART goals? So smart, you know, acronym, Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time bound. Say you’re telling your team, alright, we want to grow our business or grow the department next year. Okay, well, that’s probably the goal, but it’s not a SMART goal. It’s are we growing by headcount, are we growing by revenue, or are we growing profits? You kind of what? It’s not specific. 

It also isn’t going to be measurable, right? You’re like, what are we trying to grow? Is it assignable? Assignable is making sure that there are people you can enlist to get their help rather than you having to do it all yourself. That probably isn’t going to apply there realistic? Well, I don’t know. An agency owner in Canada several years ago said he wanted to grow from 1 million a year in revenue to 5 million a year in one year. I said that’s unlikely. He also said, and I want really good team retention. 

I said, going from one to 5 million in a year unlikely, and it definitely would not be with good team retention. And he said, well, what if the retention is just good enough to get us from one to five, and I’m like, alright, I’m not working with him. Not someone I want to help. So you know, realistic will vary. And then the time bound is to set a deadline of some sort. So you know, thinking with the SMART goal, if the team is confused about what to do, make sure you’re giving them SMART goals, and it gets easier with time. 

Now, the extended version of the SMART goal concept SMART would be SMARTIE. That would be adding an I and an E. This is looking at your goals. And I would be for inclusion, ensuring that everyone feels valued and included. And E would be for equity, treating people equally. So that’s a newer way to look at it, including inclusion and equity. If you don’t now, it’s worth taking a look. How can you uplevel your approach?

Nicole: I love it. I love it. Okay. All right. So chapter four was all about work less. So you’re gonna, you know, get lots of plans in place, be smarter about your goals, make your SMART goals, and then obviously add the I in the E. All right, chapter five. All right, this is this is a big one. We all want to earn more. 

Karl: Yes.

Nicole: And I gotta tell ya, you know, I guess because I’m a coach, Karl. I see a powerful question. I’m like, oh, that’s so good. So listen to the question that, Karl, just, you know, one day typed right into the computer. He said this, what would it cost to replace you? I don’t think people stop to think about that. And that is a huge, beautiful question. So talk a little bit about how people whether they’re in a position at a company, they have their own agency, they’re the CEO, how can you get yourself, you know, financially in a better position.

Karl: If you’re the owner of the business, it is perhaps a bit easier, because you know, what you’re paying yourself, you perhaps know what you could pay yourself, you want to pay yourself more, you give yourself a raise or grow the business. And I talk more about this in the book, to increase your compensation. Now, when it comes to replacing yourself, it helps to take a look at what’s the nature of your work. For instance, if you’re an agency owner, you might be doing a bit of sales, you might be doing some client account management, you might be doing some client strategy, probably some other things. 

So divide your role into all of the sub roles involved. And the same is true if you’re an employee working for an organization of what all are you doing? And then importantly, what do you contributing from a results perspective? And sometimes the results will be quantified things, you know, you’ve hit a quota of however many dollars per quarter or per year, or what have you. But there also could be some intangible things. For instance, are you the person who is making sure that the company remembers everyone’s birthday? 

And when someone is struggling, kind of flagging that to make sure they get the support they need and things like that? So you know, the results, the impact you have sometimes will be quantified, sometimes not. But you know, keep in mind that it may be more expensive to replace yourself than you think. For instance, an agency owner mentioned that he wanted to get out of doing client strategy work, he was still doing client strategy. And he wanted to stop and I said, well, how much would it cost to hire someone to replace you for that? 

And at the time, he was paying himself about 300,000 a year salary, of course, more from distributions. And he thought for a moment and he said about $150,000 to hire someone to do the strategy work. And I said, yeah, that sounds about right. He’s like, but that’s a lot of money. I said yeah, but you’re doing it and you’re paying yourself 300,000. So you’re kind of overpaying yourself for that work. And obviously he was doing other things as well. But keep in mind that just because you need to pay someone a lot to do your role. If that frees you up to do higher-value work, it could well be worth it.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, he needs to figure out other lines of income. How to increase the revenue he’s already got and probably just like step back and look at the business and you know, you’ll find all sorts of opportunities to leverage your talents and skills. Especially if you bought the baby, you birth it and you’re working with it. That’s fantastic.

Karl: And the good news is he did take that on, right. He got other people to help there and got himself out of day-to-day client work and now can focus on building the business.

Nicole: Yeah, so going completely entrepreneurial. That’s awesome. All right, good, good. All right, so earn more. So let me just repeat this powerful question, because you’re like, what was it? What was it? What would it cost to replace you? I think that is a very important thing to do too. Again, if you’re inside an organization inside a department, you know what I find Karl, those of you who are listening to this, the people that are listening to this, Karl are hungry people. Meaning that like, they want more, they want to do more. But they’re also like very generous at work, right? So there’s, we need somebody to do this project, and they go, they, raise your hand. I’ll do it. Yeah. And so in that process, you’ve got all these skills. So keeping track of that will help you go to the compensation, annual review conversation a better way, I think.

Karl: Oh, yes. And keep in mind that, you know, if you’re in an employee role the company may not want to pay it. You’d have to identify, is there someone who’d want to pay it? You know, I’ve seen the articles about analyzing, what is the economic value of a stay at home parent’s contributions. And it’s like, if they were doing the mix of their role as an employee, they would be getting paid six figures, you know, and it could even be like, 200,000, a year or more. If you include all of the different things. Unfortunately, we’re not at a place in the US where being a parent pays like that. But at least on the employee’s side, it’s worth taking a look, is there a company that is going to fully value your contribution?

Nicole: Yeah, and I think that, you know, leaders really are well, meaning. I mean, like, if you if you look out over your department, you look out over your company, you’re like, okay, you know what, when I ask Karl to do things, he does them, and he does them excellently. So I just keep asking Karl, because Karl is clutch. And Karl is hungry. So he says, yeah, I’ll give it a whirl. I’ll try to figure it out. And so sometimes leaders forget how much they’ve asked an employee to take on.

Karl: For sure. And there’s the joke, if you want something to happen, ask someone who’s already too busy, they’ll get it done. You know, I was thinking back in my first job after college was at a social impact mutual fund company in New York, and we had this enormous RFP, request for proposal. We were doing this proposal that could have potentially doubled the size of business. 

So I mean, amazing. And so I was for, you know, one week, I was working until 11pm or midnight, several nights, you know, and then taking the car service home kind of thing. And, you know, that was the case where that effort was potentially worth it. It was a potential game changer. We didn’t get the particular proposal. We didn’t win it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. But importantly, I was willing to do that for something that was a huge deal. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be doing that every single week.

Nicole: Right. And boy, did you learn a lot? 

Karl: I did, I did.

Nicole: Put all of these pieces to the puzzle together. Because you had to use what you did know, invent or research what you didn’t know. And RFP big puzzle. Right. Awesome. I love that story. Okay. All right. So we’ve talked about working less earning more. And here’s bottom line on chapter six is you’re gonna have to enlist people to help you get this done. Nobody’s on an island. So you’re gonna have to learn to delegate. And you have a really great diagram in chapter six that has desire, competence, capacity. Will you talk a little bit about. People are gonna love this.

Karl: Absolutely. And so imagine, you know, as your as your listing, it’s a Venn diagram, and you’ve got three overlapping circles. One circle is desire, do you want to do it? Competence is do you know how to do it and capacity is do you have time to do it? Whenever something isn’t getting done, it’s usually because you’re missing at least one of those. For instance, you’ve hired a team member to do a particular job. If they don’t have the competence to do it, maybe they have desire and capacity. They’re going to do it, but they’re not going to do it well. 

Maybe it’s the case, this might be especially true for you as a leader, or maybe you have a desire and competency, you don’t have capacity, you don’t have any time. It’s probably not going to get done. Or maybe it’ll get done late. And the one of the most insidious situations is where someone is missing the desire. So they have the competence to do it. They have the capacity, they have the time to do it, but they don’t want to do it. They don’t have desire. Those would be people I refer to as reluctant employees or worse, reluctant leaders. 

That’s where someone could do the job you need them to do but they don’t want to. Kind of like the Herman Melville short story Bartleby the Scrivener, where they’ve hired the employee who initially is good, and then eventually everything, every time you request something he says I would prefer not to. I would prefer not to. You don’t want that on your team. So if something isn’t getting done, take a look at the desire, competence and capacity Venn diagram. Which of those is missing? If even one is missing, it’s not going to go well.

Nicole: Yeah, I know, all my HR friends listening, I just really think you should have that Venn diagram on the wall when you’re interviewing people. Recruiters need this. I mean, you do. You have to ask desire questions. We’re asking lots of competence questions. And also like the energy piece, it’s huge to ask the questions, the capacity.

Karl: And by the way that can potentially save you a lot of money later. A friend hired someone as a project manager who had previously been a designer. And they’re like, just to clarify, this is about project management, not about design. And the candidate was like, yeah. And then day one started interfering with the designers. And unfortunately, the owners over at the organization, this is not a client of mine, I’m like hearing about it from the friend there. Like, weren’t really taking action. 

Finally, they fired the employee, who then turned around and claimed wrongful termination. And they had to pay a sizable settlement. And it’s like, if you had consulted me, I would have advised not hiring them in first place. Because they, they didn’t have a good reason for why they were trying to change careers. And sure enough, they didn’t want to change. I think they were just desperate for a job. And, and unfortunately, the company didn’t ask skeptical questions, and it cost them.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah. And then litigious on top of it crazy. It’s crazy out there. Yeah, we love you leaders and HR people. That’s what Karl and I are trying to do. Help you, help you.

Karl: Yeah. Yes.

Nicole: Well, we’ve got like, I don’t know, 5 more chapters. And and I, you know, I’d love to maybe have you back on the show to do the last five. But I don’t want to leave everybody hanging. So seven through 11 is a lot about you laying down some serious strategies. 

Karl: Yes. 

Nicole: Working in 90 day plan. Here’s the thing I want you to talk about. Chapter 10. Hold yourself accountable. Did everybody hear that? Yeah. And then chapter 11 is about taking action. So he lays out how to get your party started and get your plan rolling. But will you we finish up by talking about hold yourself accountable. That’s huge.

Karl: Absolutely. You could have the best plan in the world. But if you don’t actually take action on the plan, it’s almost like not having the plan at all, or, you know, you feel guilty about not following the plan. One of the strongest things you can do is to recruit someone to serve as your project manager. They may not have a literal project manager title, they might have a coordinator title, they might be your assistant, if you have an assistant or share an assistant. Something like that. Someone to check in with you on how’s it going? You know, you mentioned you’re going to do this, this and this last week, how did that go? 

And I’m not saying to make that person, you know, they’re not your boss. I did a workshop a number of years ago, where a, I mentioned the idea that it helps to have someone external to you to help you stay accountable. And one of the audience members did not react well to that. Yeah, they were like, I’m the boss, I don’t want my employee telling me what to do. Like, they’re under charge. That wasn’t, that wasn’t the point. They’re not like, gonna fire you if you didn’t get your goals done. It’s like, but it helps to have someone asking. 

So whether that’s someone internal on your existing team, or external could be a coach, could be your CPA, if you’re a business owner, right. You know, maybe you meet with someone on an ongoing basis. How did that go kind of thing. It helps to have someone hold you accountable to serve as your project manager for this work. Otherwise, you’re doing your best but life can get in the way. Plan ahead.

Nicole: Absolutely. Yeah. So you know, I mentioned earlier that I use Basecamp. And so, one of my assistants Terry, if you’re listening, Terry, I love you. We put stuff on Basecamp. And so she’ll respond to me. And like, if I don’t respond back to her within 48 hours, she just sends me a little note on Basecamp following up.

Karl: How’s it going? Yeah.

Nicole: Following up. Which means you need to handle this so I can move forward.

Karl: The thing is, it sounds like you appreciate that because you don’t want to block things. You want to unblock the situation. But you’ve got other things you’re working on. You’ve got a really good process for that.

Nicole: Yeah. And, and she knows it too. You know what I mean? Like she doesn’t think I’m slacking over here. She can look at my calendar and be like, oh, she had three, eight hour back to back training days in South Carolina. No wonder she wasn’t getting back to me. So she understands, and that’s the thing. You got to have trust between everybody. All right, well, it has been an absolute delight to hear about your new book, okay. It is Work Less, Earn More. Look at even the cool package it came in.

Karl: If you can’t see the, can’t see the cover, if you’re listening, it’s you know, Work Less, Earn More and work is crossed out because you want to get rid of that work, less work.

Nicole: All right. Okay. So I want you to tell everybody, where they can find you. You’ve mentioned it a few times throughout this. And you know what we are, Karl and I are in the business of sharing our work with you. And the reason why I’m sharing this is because I don’t think you can get a better book to get yourself in a position and then the free workbook. It’s really good stuff and then get connected to his website. With all the great articles. Karl is an amazing human. Will you please share it one more time where they can find you?
Karl: Absolutely. So Karl Sakas here, check out to get a free chapter to see where you can buy the book on Amazon worldwide in Kindle, paperback and hardcover. And also where you can get free access to the workbook. 40 plus pages to help you cement what you’ve learned. To help you get to work less, earn more, more smoothly. So go to And it’s all waiting for you.

Nicole: All right, fantastic. You can also find him on the LinkedIn and go there and check them out over there. Karl, thank you so much for spending all this time and energy with me. I’m grateful. Listen, people you need to like this episode and subscribe. And if you would, please let us know in the comments what you thought of the show we’d be more than grateful. Thank you so much, Karl. Everybody have a vibrant day.

Voiceover: Ready to build your vibrant culture? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her strategies, systems and smarts to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Your organization will get lit from within. Email And be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at

1 thought on “The Path to Working Less & Earning More | Karl Sakas”

  1. This podcast really spoke to me! I’ve had Work Less-Make More as one of my top two life goals for the past 2-3 years. The information shared in this episode has tremendous value and I’ve ordered the book to learn more and do the work to make that goal happen! Thank you Nicole for introducing us to Karl and his expertise!


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