Carissa Reiniger is an entrepreneur and small business growth expert. She started her company, Silver Lining, at the age of 22 and has been highly involved in the world of small business ever since. She spent over a decade of her life learning how to effectively help a small business grow and developed the SLAP methodology which has managed to influence over 10,000 small businesses.
Carissa has written 3 books on how to grow and help small businesses succeed. She has also been featured in many publications and media outlets including the New York Times, Forbes, TechCrunch, National Post, Globe and Mail, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNN and more. She speaks often on entrepreneurship and has worked with the small business teams at The White House, Google, RIM, Staples, American Airlines, Citrix, and many more.
Carissa is also the founder of Thank You Small Business, a big movement to help more small businesses succeed. She is extremely passionate about the arts, has 2 books about relationships, and a play based on her book that she produced across Canada and many other projects under her belt. She is currently working on writing and directing her own play in NYC and producing and directing a documentary.
Period in business
She started Silver Lining eleven years ago when she was 22 years old. It was her first official business.
Core revenue streams
When she started Silver Lining, it was a consulting business which didn’t work in the long run because the overheads were too high, their consulting fees to high, and it was not scalable. She eventually changed the business model to a training model where they were getting paid to train small businesses. The revenue streams changed because they were getting paid large sums of money by large organizations, companies and government agencies to train small businesses. Though that business model was highly profitable, they could not support the small businesses in the long term so four years ago Carissa came up with another business model through which she invested heavily in the development of a software product that enabled Silver Lining to become a SaaS business.
That business model has so far been very successful because their prices are affordable, it’s profitable, they can scale, and they can work with small businesses long term. They have three different SaaS package levels depending on how much support a business owner needs.
Core service offering
Carissa wanted to help small business owners successfully sustain their businesses while making more money doing what they love. She first interviewed 400 business owners trying to figure out why it was so hard to grow a small business and why the failure rate was so high. She discovered that small businesses never have enough time or money; and they need more time to make more money, and more money to make more time which Carissa called The Cash Flow Capacity Catch 22.
To solve that problem, Carissa developed the Silver Lining Action Plan (SLAP!), better known as the SLAP Methodology, which is based on behaviour change psychology; and it’s more of a modern, provocative, interesting, action-oriented, interactive business growth plan. SLAP is a one year program where business owners spend the first 30 days building a one year growth plan.
The business owners start by thinking about where they want their businesses to be, evaluating their business models, setting financials goals, deciding who their ideal customers are, and building an action plan to go into the market and meet their target customers. Once they are done, which usually takes 10 hours, they have to implement that action plan within a 12 month period. Silver Lining offers them support, structures, resources and training for the 12 months to help them achieve their growth plan.
Current business model
Silver Lining’s business model is SaaS overlaid with consultancy and their pricing is between $200 and $500 a month. Every client at any level gets four things including access to the SLAP center (where they build their action plan, manage their results, and get the resources they need), a SLAP assistant (a supportive team to help them stay on track), access to SLAP school (ongoing online training), and access to SLAP world (where they are connected to other business owners and resources that will support them in their growth plans).
Silver Lining also offers them access to SLAP experts made up of successful entrepreneurs looking to give back by mentoring small business owners. The entrepreneurs get certified by Silver Lining to become SLAP experts and they mostly serve the clients who pay more than $200 a month through one-on-one or group meetings based on the need of every business owner. The amount a client pays per month determines the amount of time they spend with a SLAP expert which can be weekly or monthly.
Coming up with the current business model
Carissa says she came up with the current business model by getting it wrong so many times in the beginning. She believes that one earns their stripes not by their moments of grand success but by their moments of massive failure.
Silver Lining grew exponentially and achieved $1 Million in revenue in just their first year of business, but that rapid growth became a problem in the long run because by the end of their second year they had $400,000 in debt.
Initially, they had tried a lot of business models including consulting, franchising, and training, but they all failed. The failures taught Carissa a lot of valuable lessons. She has always been conscious about the quality of their service and whether it helps their clients succeed; whether the business was profitable; and whether the business is scalable to ensure widespread impact.
Tip 1: Fast growth is not always good
Tip 2: You will become your best over time, going through different failures and successes
Motivation behind starting in business
She never thought she would be an entrepreneur and never had aspirations to work in the corporate world but she was passionate about making a difference in the world. While interviewing the 400 business owners that she talked to about small businesses, she connected mostly to the fact that they felt stuck, and she really wanted to help them out of that. Her desire to solve that problem was the driving force that led her to start Silver Lining.
Getting the first clients
She initially worked for free for anyone who would listen to her and worked hard to get clients. The first thing she did after quitting her job was write down a list of all the business owners around the world who she hoped would be her clients one day. She then called each of them and asked if she could interview them and learn from them. Silver Lining was built on what she learnt from the business people she interviewed.
The second thing she did is call all the people she knew who believed in her and asked them if they could buy into her consulting services. The combination of those two things quickly built up a lot of business for her.
Hiring the first team
She hired an assistant within a few months and by the end of the first year she had a small team that grew to about 12 to 15 people by the second year. She focuses more on keeping her staff count low and ensuring sustainable profitability and scalability.
Growth strategy now
Carissa has a growth team which has two sub-teams. The first sub-team is the partnership team that focuses on building relationships with organizations and companies that serve small businesses, to help them implement SLAP into their operations. The second sub-team is the direct connecting team which focuses on fun promotions that they can offer including referrals and thought leadership activities that they can do to offer support to small business owners who are not yet their clients.
Biggest breakthrough moment
This happened when she was having her SaaS software developed. There were so many unexpected challenges, that she doubted whether the idea would work. But one of her advisers motivated her to keep going and from that point on she became very focused on achieving success in her business.
This was when the company was in so much debt. In the beginning, when the business was low on cash flow, she used to borrow money and pay it back at high interest rates. Those interest rates became a burden over time and they got her into $400,000 in debt, which negatively affected her relationships with people.
What she would have done differently
Carissa says if she got a do over, she would have asked for help a lot sooner to avoid accumulating debt to the point where she did. When she finally sought help, she got the strategic input she needed to solve the problem and the emotional support she needed to forge on.
A day in life when starting Silver Lining Vs. a day in life now
It has somewhat been almost the same now as it was then, but today, she is always in meetings all day long and has been consistently building structures around her to operate the business. She used to spend more time on external meetings with potential clients but she now makes sure that she has a 3-hour meeting with her staff every day.
Carissa has several books and the first one is Inspiring Entrepreneurs: How to Build a Business to its First Million which is based on the interviews that she did with the 400 business owners and the lessons that she learnt. The second book is an ebook called I Will and it’s about the systems that she uses to keep track of everything she has to do and making sure she does them.
The third book is called Thank You Small Business and it’s about how important small businesses are to the economy. It’s also a thank you message to small business owners for how hard they work for the economy to create jobs and opportunities. It’s also a call to action to the general public to advocate for and support small businesses more.
As an entrepreneur, to have created a business that changed the economy one business at a time, and that lasted far beyond her while sustainably helping small businesses grow and thrive.
On a personal level, to have her life remind people that they can create the reality that they want and that anything is possible if they keep working hard at what they want to achieve – Carissa.
Best way to connect:
www.smallbizsilverlining.com – Carissa’s Business website (use contact form)
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