- October 23, 2020
Cardenas had held multiple leadership posts in a variety of businesses, from health care to human resources outsourcing, when he launched the firm, Advantage Business Partners, in 2019. A one-time executive with Bradenton-based Progressive Employer Services, which, at its peak, was one of the largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) in Florida in revenue, Cardenas reveres the ideals of the American Dream. “When I moved from Colombia,” he says, “things were very dangerous and having the opportunity to move to this country is something I’m so grateful for.”
That gratitude partially led Cardensas, now 56, to launch ABP. The Lakewood Ranch-based firm specializes in selling and providing outsourcing services, including payroll and employee benefits, human resources, technology and marketing consulting and more. It finds clients through associations, centers of influence, social media and outside cold calls. “We use a distribution model,” Cardenas says. “We have a wide variety of outsourcing products (clients) can choose from. We offer anything a small business needs.”
“We are very much similar to an insurance agency, but we sell outsourcing,” he adds.
Yet beyond what ABP sells, its better mousetrap — and what motivates Cardenas to want to build a big business around it — is its investor model. “I wanted to be able to scale, but I didn’t want one of the venture capital firms,” he says. “I didn’t like the short-term mentality of venture capital where it’s all about profit. It’s important to make a profit but I want to make an impact. There’s more to what I wanted than to have a strong EBITDA model.”
So Cardenas built ABP around recruiting individual investors, including foreign nationals utilizing B-2 investor visas. The investor signs a management agreement with ABP, putting in between $150,000 and $225,000 to start. That money is placed in an LLC separate from Cardenas’ company, and used to pay operational costs and the salaries of salespeople. Cardenas earns a management fee from the investors, and in turn he trains and builds out the sales staff.
Cardenas has brought on seven investors so far, from a variety of backgrounds, including two from Colombia and two from Canada. He, in turn, has opened seven remote-based ABP sales agencies with a total of 11 salespeople, covering markets in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. In total, investors have put $1.2 million into the ABP concept.
Cardenas’ three-year plan is to hire 12 to 14 salespeople a year, which he says will require at least six new investors. He’s open to most markets geographically in Florida, with the focus on finding the right people. “We are growing per talent,” he says, “not per location.”
Recruiting, training and build-out of the sales staff occupies a chunk of Cardenas’ workday. Since the sales team is all remote — which brings down overhead — he meets with the group virtually everyday, using a Grant Cardone sales training program. He often sends the team motivational and educational snippets he picks up from podcasts.
Cardenas is also building a sales culture, he says, where salespeople can keep a percentage of the residuals of the book of business they create even after they leave the company. The percentage is based on how many years they stay before moving on. Cardenas says that’s a key differentiator for ABP, given most companies don’t provide residuals to salespeople who leave. “I don’t want people to leave, I want them to stay long-term,” he says. “But I also wanted to create a model that’s not one size fits all.”
The biggest challenge Cardenas says he faces to grow the business is finding, and keeping, the right salespeople. At a small level, losing one or two salespeople, he says, can have a big impact on revenue production. With more salespeople, a loss of one or two can be absorbed easier. “If we don’t have good people.” he says, “we don’t have anything.”
Finding those people is also Cardenas’ biggest motivator. He finds them mostly on LinkedIn and through word of mouth. “I’m very excited about the coming year,” he says. “It’s exciting to be building out a team.”