A few reasons why you should consider TOTALLY IGNORING social media (Ep 53)

Show notes from episode 53 of the podcast.

“Don’t fall in love with the medium – fall in love with the mission.” – Seth Godin on a recent episode of Akimbo (recommended listening).

Our mission as business owners is to reach customers and exploit profitable marketing channels. The mediums and the ways to do that are always changing.

Its about being supple and embracing change. As a small business owner we have the ability to shift gears and change a lot quicker than our bigger counterparts so we need to use that to our advantage.

People often ask me how I can get away with totally ignoring social media in today’s business environment. The answer is simple. It doesn’t make me money and I don’t rely on it to make money. Its hyper competitive and the ROI for me isn’t there.

Social media is an opportunity and not everyone should ignore it – don’t get me wrong. But here is an argument…

As a business owner you only have the mental and physical capacity to focus on so many things. You can only do 1 thing at a time. There are only 5 hours a day to build your side hustle while working full time. You have to pick and chose the opportunities you go after because you can’t go after them all.

Followers are getting harder and harder to reach and you have zero control. Starbucks spent millions of dollars building a massive facebook following and now they have to pay for advertising to reach them. Starbucks has no control over this following. Facebook can change anything anytime and they have zero say in the matter. And guess what? These platforms like to SELL ads.

Likes and follows don’t equal sales. You should be measuring your success in sales and value. Many times the ROI on acquiring followers and getting likes does not pay off in the long run.

It’s getting more and more competitive to advertise on social media platforms. Ad spend is blowing up. Global social media advertising spending increased 32% in 2018.

Total ad spend on social platforms is increasing fast:

  • Global social media advertising spending increased 32% in 2018.
  • That spending is predicted to grow an additional 73% in the next five years.
  • Facebook’s advertising revenue was more than $55 billion in 2018. For Q4 2018, 93% of that ad revenue came from mobile ads.
  • Instagram brought in an estimated $6.84 billion in mobile advertising in 2018, up from $3.64 billion in 2017. An INSANE 87.9% increase!
  • Twitter’s advertising revenue was 2.6 billion in 2018, an increase of 25% over 2017.
  • In 2018, YouTube generated $3.6 billion in video ad revenues in the U.S. alone, up 17.1% from 2017.
  • Pinterest is expected to bring in $771.4 million in U.S. ad revenues in 2019, an increase of 39.4% over 2018.
  • Snapchat made an estimated $660 million in U.S. ad revenues in 2018, up 18.7% from 2017.

Source: Hootsuite

Does this sound like there are a lot of untapped opportunity for advertising? Not to me it doesn’t.

So what should you consider doing for advertising? Get creative. Find out who can refer you business and go see them. Traditional sales strategies can be implemented and you’ll have a huge advantage if you get face to face with a potential customer.

We grew our business mainly by affordable guerrilla marketing like door hanging flyers, sidewalk chalk, lawn signs and shaking hands. It is tough but it works and nobody is focusing on it anymore!

Content marketing and local search optimization is also a big factor. Google rewards companies that produce great content and have good interaction statistics. Lucky for us most service based businesses are dominated by mom and pop companies that don’t know anything about keywords or content. Learn it and implement it and you’ll dominate.

Your Google My Business page should be your #1 focus. You need quality reviews with photos, interactions and posts. This should be your version of social media!

YouTube video content on your niche should be a focus as well. Its the 2nd largest search engine in the world and is part of the Google family so when linked with your website and Google My Business location its a winning combination!

A note if you do decide that social media is worth pursuing:

Understand the difference between vanity metrics and conversion metrics.

Likes and follows are vanity metrics and don’t mean much.

Conversion metrics tell the story. You use them to calculate your ROI and to analyze how much money in sales and profit the ads or posts are generating for you.

Overall social media doesn’t make my 20% of activities that generate 80% of my results so I ignore it. That is not to say it won’t work for you! Everyone is in a different situation obviously so you should get more advice and give it a test run to see for yourself what works and what doesn’t!

May 22, 2019 6:58 am

The “idea fallacy” and finding your pink ocean (ep 52)

Show notes from Podcast Episode 52.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “blue ocean strategy”. It was coined by W. Chan Kim in his book of the same name and expanded in the more recent book “blue ocean shift”.

The concept makes a lot of sense on the surface. A red ocean is an overcrowded market with cutthroat competition.

The books main premise is that there is a third area to compete beyond price and value – finding a new untapped market through innovation.

The blue ocean is a market without competition. Instead of competing head to head with other companies you find a new untapped market and take it all for yourself. You innovate and add value in a totally new way to create a league of your own. You create a new market through creative disruption. Overcome old technology to gain a huge competitive advantage.

Like so many of the big business books of today there is a big selection bias in this book.

Cirque du Soleil is the main case study. They got away from the ultra competitive red ocean circus industry and invented an entirely new type of entertainment. It moved from a red ocean to a blue ocean. It had no competition and the market all to itself.

It also uses Pfizer’s Viagra. A totally new market right? They also spent and gambled billions. Who the heck has that kind of power?

It also uses Apple. Yet another Apple case study! The iPod was genius. The iPhone was genius. Pure innovation and they had a market cornered. How the hell am I supposed to do this as a inexperienced entrepreneur without world class talents?

What about the millions of other new inventions that didn’t prove to fill a real need?

What is the better approach? Inventing a new type of circus or a staying away from the circus business all together if its oversaturated and a race to the bottom?

This strategy might work great for fortune 500 companies with massive capital and influence. They can afford to bring new products to market. They can afford to spend millions a year in R&D. They can take risks funded by the core business operations.

Blue oceans are incredibly expensive to develop. The customers don’t know you exist. You have to educate a market. The marketing spend can be massive. All in the “hopes” that there is actually a need.

There aren’t enough of them to go around. If you spend your time and energy trying to find a blue ocean you’ll likely end up spending years sitting on your hands or failing over and over again.

Books like this propagate this “idea fallacy” that is the foundation of modern entrepreneurship culture. What is your business idea? Whats your differentiator? Have you found your blue ocean?

I personally believe this is the wrong way to look at entrepreneurship if you want to have a shot to actually get something going and start the ball rolling.

Entrepreneurship is about momentum. Its about starting really small and getting your feet wet. Something simple. Something local. Something other companies are already doing and customers are already on the market.

The successful entrepreneurs aren’t great at spotting ideas – they are great at spotting opportunities and they have the decision making skills to figure out which ones to chase.

The same people looking for ideas are the ones that are trying to figure out how to find their blue ocean. They believe competition is bad. They are looking for a market or a niche or a product they can enter and have all to themselves. Thats the essence of an idea and thats not how most successful entrepreneurs operate.

This type of mindset is what leads people to never taking a leap. Always sitting on their hands waiting for the next big blue ocean idea. Failing over and over again because the odds are against them and never actually becoming an entrepreneur.

I like thinking about every market as a pie. Can I get a piece of the pie and how big would that piece be?

I laugh when people ask me what my original business idea was. It wasn’t an idea. It was a current market with businesses and customers all already out there doing their thing. I looked at it and studied it and thought hey this is an opportunity. I could carve out some of this pie because I can do it a little bit better than the businesses out here doing it. I could probably replace a salary with it and maybe more.

There is a framework for building a decent business. How to market. How to manage. How to organize it all. If you can do these things well you can win in almost any market. Targeting a market thats growing and has weak competition is just icing on the cake.

You’ll never agree with 100% of what you read in any book. You have to look at them with an open mind and take bits and pieces and apply them the right way. This book has some gems.

What did I take from the book?

Find the balance between a red ocean and a blue ocean.

Avoid the ultra competitive markets that aren’t growing. Avoid competing on a global scale. Avoid selling or depending on someone esle’s platform (Amazon).

Differentiate yourself so you do not need to compete on price. If you try to do the exact same thing in the exact same way as all of your competitors you are in a red ocean. You are competing on price and there will always be somebody willing to work a crap load of hours and be super stressed out all the time for $50k a year.

Any market can be a red ocean if you choose to let it be.

Find a pink ocean.

A market that exists. A problem that is already being solved by a handful of companies. A market that is growing every day. A market with weak competition. A market that you can study. A local market that doesn’t compete on a global scale. A market where you can carve out a piece of the pie and build a great business.

Blue Ocean also uses Group Seb’s ActiFry as a big case study of brilliant innovation. A fryer that only uses a tablespoon of oil to make french fries. Instead of risking millions trying to do what nobody has ever done why not just start selling french friers when fries are getting popular and the market is exploding?

Forget blue ocean. Spot opportunities where you can carve out your piece of the pie. Start small. Get momentum and enjoy the larger and larger opportunities that come your way.

May 21, 2019 6:07 am

THE HIRING SERIES – Part 4 – Dealing with questions and nurturing your talent from within (Ep 51)

SHOW NOTES FROM PODCAST EPISODE 51

You will get a lot of questions from your employees in the early days. You have two choices each time this happens:

  1. Solve the problem yourself and move on. This is the easy way and what most managers do.
  2. Ask the employee how they would solve the problem and to hear their thought process behind it. Do this by asking the employee a series of questions. What is the goal here? What tools do you have? How would you solve this? Turn this decision into a process. Implement it into your training video series for all future employees. This is the best way.

Option #1.

Answering the question and moving on is the easy way at first but it makes this employee dependent on you. Instead of thinking for themselves they simply call you. They rely on you more and more. Each time they have a problem they call you and turn it into YOUR PROBLEM.

This turns you into the bottleneck. All important decisions come through you. All fires go straight to you. Nobody in the company is capable of solving problems without your input. If you go on vacation everything stops. If you don’t answer the phone everything stops. If you are busy a line of problems backs up behind you. Customer service suffers. Employees suffer. Everyone gets frustrated.

Don’t let every problem in your company become your problem.

Option #2.

Invest the time it takes to turn your employees into extensions of you that know how to use your logic and the company’s goals to frame decisions and solve problems. This is the important but not urgent stuff that helps you build a strong company. It takes some extra time now but it’s an example of how 2 hours of work now can prevent 1 hour of work a week for the next year.

A side benefit is you’ll learn how employees think and a lot about their competence level. Each one of these interactions is like an interview case study. You’ll learn who you can trust to solve problems and who you can’t. Get rid of the employee you can’t or move them to a position with less decisions to make. You’ll learn who you can promote to oversee other employees. You’ll learn who has the soft skills we talked about: communication, positive & logical thinking and emotional maturity.

Another side benefit is that you will learn from your employees and this environment encourages creative problem solving. Your employees will have a voice. They will be a part of finding the solution. Go into the process with an open mind and you’ll be surprised at what you are able to learn.

An example:

Your customer service rep calls you. He has a customer on the line. The customer has a question that he has never heard before and isn’t sure of the correct answer.

Let’s say a customer wants to set up an appointment at an off-time and we don’t have any employees scheduled to do the service during that time.

What do I do? He asks.

It would be easy as a boss to do option #1. Call the customer. Ask them about their order. Find out how large and profitable the work would be. Make the decision if its worth servicing the customer. Then call main employee at that location yourself and see if he can do the job. Schedule him to work. Make a special appointment for the customer. Organize the logistics. Thats faster and easier in the moment. You can just do the work yourself and it gets done right and its faster.

Why is this a problem?

It turns you as the owner or manager into the bottle neck. Next time the rep has a question he’ll call you again. And the next time. And the next one. All of his problems will continue to become your problems.

Here is the better solution:

Ask the employee what the goals of the company are? To get customers and achieve profit without distracting from the main operation.

What information do you need to find out if this aligns with our goals? I need to ask the customer about their order and find out how much revenue it would generate.

How would you make the decision? I’d assumer our labor costs us $20 per hour and the truck rental will cost $100. I’d think about how long the job would take. I’d do some math and find out if there is money to be made.

If there is money to be made how would you make it happen? I’d call the employee at the location and see if they are available to work that day. If they are I’d schedule them and set up the appointment with the customer and organize everything.

There. Boom. Now the employee knows how to approach the problem and think about solving it.

Now you as a business owner need to set up a system. If someone has a special request the first thing we do is find out more about the service and find out if it will be profitable and worth our effort. This is how we calculate it. This is our baseline for it to be worth our time. If it’s worth our time we should set up a special appointment, rent the truck, schedule the workers and make it happen. Here is the contact list so you can contact each employee at each location. Here is how we schedule the customers.

Next time they do all this without your input. No stress for you. It happens automatically.

This is an over-simplified version. There will be more coaching. Some employees aren’t capable of reasoning like this. Others do it very well. Some can’t give you answers that you like. Require those employees to hand off this problem to a manager under you that you trust to make these decisions.

There is a balance here. Not every problem requires a process. Some problems are unique and some are repetitive. Being totally hands off is not the answer and its not what I’m suggesting. There is a balance between being helpful and enabling your employees to continue passing every problem directly to you. Empower your employees to take action and give them the tools to do so while also making time to help with the problems.

Warning – this can backfire if you don’t give your employees the tools to solve or prevent the problems. If you expect them to read your mind it can create a horrible working environment and can crush employee morale. It can also lead to major problems when employees start guessing what to do.

Don’t get upset when they call. Don’t make them feel guilty for calling. Don’t condescendingly go through this process with a bad attitude. Be open minded and encourage them to call and get answers if they are unsure. That is how you make them feel valued and supported while also giving them the power to make future decisions. Be happy. Smile. Be eager to help.

Not all questions are around process and frameworks. Sometimes the problems could have been prevented. Sometimes the problems are unnecessary stress. Sometimes the problems are not really questions and don’t have a straightforward solution.

When this happens don’t blame the employee, blame yourself. It’s easy to begin to think your employees are incompetent or that they don’t care. While this is sometimes the case and you should adjust your staffing or let those employees go – if it happens over and over again it points to a flaw in your system. If questions come in all the time it means you need to adjust the training or the structure to give your employees more tools. Don’t hate the players when you are in control of the game.

If you keep using this framework to treat these types of problems you will create a horrible work environment and your entire business will suffer. It’s your job to spot these problems in the structure and fix them so next time that problem is prevented. Don’t turn your problems into your employee’s problems. Too many owners blame employees for failing when they never gave them the tools to succeed in the first place.

The great thing about going into every interaction and approaching it as an opportunity to get into the mind of your employees is that you start to learn a lot about them. You learn about the emotional maturity because you have witnessed them deal with stressful situations. You learn about the communication skills because you have communicated with them and they have communicated with your customers. You learn about their logical decision making because you have been on the other end of the phone listening as they think through a decision.

These are all of the most important skills and they are also the hardest to pick out during an interview.

You’re able to create a company culture. You are able to spread the framework and values throughout your company.

You find the problem solvers. You find the management potential. You find the people who understand the business and think like you do.

So what do you do when your business grows need another manager?

You promote from within. When you need a new manager you don’t go try to hire someone off the street. Thats risky because you are unsure of the emotional maturity, the decision making and the positive attitude. You hire someone who you have worked with and who you understand. You hire someone who thinks like you do and understand the values of the company.

The highest paid management at my company all started as $15/hr laborers. They stood out from the rest. They grew with us and they will continue to be promoted as long as they continue to add value. It’s a win win for everyone.

May 16, 2019 9:06 am

THE HIRING SERIES – Part 3 – What to look for in your employees and why experience isn’t that important (ep 50)

SHOW NOTES FROM PODCAST EPISODE 50.

These are the skills that are immensely valuable and very hard to teach. They’re the intangibles.

Communication – do they speak clearly and look you in the eye when they talk? Do they get their point across in an efficient, succinct and logical way? Miscommunications cost big money so this is critical.

Positive attitude – enthusiasm and an eagerness to be alive is impossible to teach but its contagious. You want people like this around your customers and your other employees. It makes everyone more productive. Having a grumpy front line is devastating for team morale and also the customer experience. Don’t put up with it.

Logical thinking – some people make bonehead decisions. Give them a pass the first time but you’ll notice really quickly when someone just can’t hack it on this front. Run some mock situations in the interview and see how they would solve problems. Make them think on their feet a bit and see what happens.

Emotional maturity – being able to keep a level head and make good decisions under pressure is always a huge bonus. Things get stressful on the job and you can’t have employees getting emotional and letting anger or stress influence their actions.

Quick learning – things are changing faster than ever. Tech is revolutionizing a lot of ways business is done. Your business is supple and ready to chang strategies at a moments notice. As a small business being able to change quickly is your main advantage. You need employees that fit with this core value.

It is really hard to tell if an employee has these things during an interview. You’ll learn a lot once they are working alongside you. And that brings me to my next observation.

Inexperienced employees can make great assets:

Okay so you have a simplified job description, more cushion on the profit and loss statement and applicants beginning to apply for your job. It’s time to make a hire.

I suggest that you think long and hard about whether an experience is REALLY required to do the job well.

I’m going to make some generalizations here. There are exceptions to this and every situation is different. But here are some things to consider and some of the reasons that I love hiring inexperienced people.

Inexperienced employees often COST LESS.

You can get a recent college graduate for $45k a year that is pumped up and eager to learn and make a name for him or herself. Compare that to the high skilled person with 20 years experience that might need $100k a year to even entertain the thought.

That is a BIG difference on the bottom line and leaves more money to hire more employees, invest in more marketing or buy more equipment that can help your business grow.

There will be a lot MORE qualified applicants if you don’t require experience.

If you accept inexperienced employees during the recruiting process you will have MORE APPLICANTS

If you limit your position to only those with experience you will have less applicants who apply and less applicants to choose from. If you can train people quickly you have the luxury of hiring based on soft skills and hiring the TYPE of person you want on your team.

Inexperienced employees are OPEN MINDED and happy to follow your lead.

Remember the systems you worked tirelessly to create? Remember how your employees are supposed to direct customer service to the customer service staff and do what you want them to do?

Experienced employees often already know the best way to operate. They already know how to talk to customers. They already know how to do the job.

A silly but great example is child care. My mother-in-law turned out to be the worst babysitter in the world and my business partner who had never previously held a baby turned out to be the best. How could that be?

My mother-in-law already knows everything about childcare. She raised 3 children in the 80s and they all turned out fine.

A lot has changed since the 80s. They found out a baby sleeping on its belly is dangerous. They found out water before the age of 4 months isn’t good. They found out blankets are dangerous in cribs. The list goes on and on. Modern research has proven a lot of things wrong that were common practice in the 80s.

My mother-in-law refused to listen to anything we said. She refused to respect our feeding schedule. She refused to avoid feeding water to the baby. She refused to be careful for allergies when introducing new foods because “I did all of this stuff when you were a baby and you turned out fine”.

Well things are different now and we have found a proven better way of doing things.

On the other hand my business partner took notes and did everything exactly as we requested down to the T. He implemented our system and did exactly what we asked him to do without question. It was a dream!

Inexperienced employees are ready and willing to listen and follow your lead. They don’t have habits that are either good or bad. You can mold and form the habits however you like and in the most efficient way possible.

Similar to the last point but slightly different. A fresh, unfiltered outlook is often great. The new biased perspective can often bring up new ways of thinking and shed new light on problems or inefficiencies. Encourage employees to present new solutions to you in an organized way (before implementation). Make it clear that freelancing on the job isn’t okay but recommendations are encouraged!

Remember there are some areas where experience really matters. In a software development position I need experience. In an executive role I need experience. In in any role that I’m unfamiliar with myself I need experience. If I need someone to come in with the goal of implementing changes or solving problems that I can’t solve I need experience.

Let’s touch on compensation.

One of the advantages of charging more for your services is that you can pay your employees well and attract great talent in most positions. Paying your laborers $3 per hour above market rate does a lot for attracting reliable and clean cut folks for example.

You will find that a lot of your employees (especially the laborers) are happy to just show up to work with the goal of getting through the day and doing as little work as possible. That is fine. These employees should be paid based on the value they bring. They might leave when they don’t get raises but they are easily replaceable.

But a select few individuals will start to shine. They’ll get good at solving problems. They’ll be an extension of you. You’ll be able to trust them to lead others and you’ll be able to give them more autonomy. They’ll help you grow and innovate. They’ll help you make the company and its systems better. They’ll challenge you as an owner and you will be able to learn from them. They’ll teach and solve problems for other employees and take stress away from you.

When someone adds serious value be ready to pay them serious money. You’ll lose these type of employees quickly if you are stingy with your compensation structure. Be ready to get out of your comfort zone here. Consider tying their pay to performance to limit your risk and increase the upside for them if they succeed.

Sometimes great employees will outgrow your company. At the end of the day it is your job as a boss to make your employees better. When they are ready to add even more value to an even larger company with higher margin products it might be time to send them off to do bigger and better things. Sending an employee off to take a bigger and better role somewhere is a very rewarding experience as a business owner.

—-

A lot of people really push back on the thought of hiring inexperienced employees in their organization. First of all this isn’t a steadfast rule. Just something I think you should consider doing and something that can give you an advantage if you do it well.

Just a clarification – this system works best when you are hiring early employees and building your team. This would be very different if you trying to tell someone how to hire their next branch manager or someone to help you grow and overcome challenges.

Hiring your first employee is very uncomfortable. It’s scary. The anxiety in fact can be so crippling that many many people can’t take the leap from freelancer to entrepreneur because they just can’t do it.

So what is the goal of hiring your first employee? TO MINIMIZE RISK.

When you are hiring your first employee you need someone willing to follow your lead and follow your process. You need someone who will listen to you and will do as you tell them to do at least initially.

It is VERY RISKY to hire someone and let them do their own thing with little structure. You do not know the person. It’s as simple as that. You are trusting your business in the hands of someone that you do not know. You are trusting them to take care of your customers. To operate your equipment. This is a big deal.

This is why so many people gravitate towards hiring and partnering with their friends. To try to mitigate risk of the unknown. I have done this and it can be great but more often than not it causes problems. Thats why you need a system and a stranger willing to follow that system.

When you are hiring your first handful of employees your goal shouldn’t be to hire another entrepreneur or top level manager.

You might also be thinking that you would be really upset to be hired by a boss who has this mentality. Of course you would. You are an entrepreneur. You don’t want to be told what to do. I get that.

You, as the business owner, are the manager. You don’t need more managers! You need people to follow your lead!

There are a select few people in my company that have earned the right of not being told what to do. They don’t get that right when they first get hired. When they first get hired they are expected to follow the process that I’ve worked so hard to build. Its the only way to keep things organized and deliver a consistent product to my customers.

That isn’t to say I don’t listen to my employees and verbally encourage them to bring ideas to me on how to improve. When they call me with questions I challenge them and encourage them to think through it and solve the problem. I don’t just tell them what to do and expect them to be quite.

The people who earn the trust and prove they can MAKE GOOD DECISIONS get the trust and get the autonomy.

Interviewing well is a skill and I’ve found that its not directly correlated with drive.

Just like you can’t learn much about someone on a first date its really hard to learn a lot of valuable information in a job interview. Especially your first few early interviews when you aren’t sure what you are doing. You really get to know someone when something stressful happens on the job. When you watch them solve real problems. Don’t get me wrong you can weed out 90% of the people during the interview but it isn’t as simple as saying “if you do a better job hiring you can find all these traits in experienced people”.

In my experience, not always of course, unmotivated people get really really good at telling people what they want to hear all the time to make people think they are excited, driven and getting things done. They put a lot of energy into this. They calculate what they are going to say when you call. What they are going to say at the next team meeting.

It’s a sad truth but most employees have 1 main goal – to do as little work as humanly possible and still get paid on Friday. In my time as an owner/operator I’ve had only a handful of employees come to me eager and willing to take stress and work away from me and put it on themselves.

Finding motivated and driven employees isn’t impossible but its hard to hire and interview for it. You have to see it for yourself. This is the main reason why I love hiring inexperienced people and developing and promoting my own talent.

You might say “how am I going to challenge and empower great people with this kind of rigid structure? I would argue all day that challenging and empowering and your employees can be done with structure and processes. Your company has to have structure to succeed. You will have an absolute mess on your hands if everyone is out there doing what they want to be doing in the way they want to be doing it.

Employees want structure. Even high level employees want structure and a way of doing things. You need to develop a framework and set of rules employees can use to solve problems. If you don’t build the framework and set the rules every problem will become your problem and will require a quick decision and work on your part.

Motivating and making your employees feel valued is about how you treat them on a day to day basis. Do you listen to them? Do you treat them with respect? Do you encourage them to speak up when they hear something or see something they think they can improve upon?

That is the environment that employees love at any company. It’s not about the kegerator and ping pong tables.

Another concern you might have: Yes, but smart inexperienced people figure out real fast what they’re worth and jump ship faster than you can spin your head. What about that?

All employees, experienced or not, jump ship if you pay them less than the value they bring.Employees just just ship often in general. That is part of running a business. Processes and structure allow you to deal with this and build a company that can survive it.

You have to be willing to pay good people more than you are comfortable doing. I pay employees based on the value they bring my business. If they kick ass and add a lot of value I pay them a lot of money.

Hire fast and fire fast.

We’ve all heard the saying “Hire slow and fire fast”. I like that reasoning for high level employees making $50k+ per year. I also like that reasoning for high skilled employees that require extensive training or investment. There are a lot of costs associated with hiring a full time employee at that level. Turnover is more expensive.

But for $15 per hour help in your service business the best way to figure out how much value they can bring to the table is to give them a shot and watch them work. In many cases you’re investing the cost of a background check and a few hours of training. Don’t waste your time meticulously interviewing and testing personality traits, emotional maturity and decision making skills.

This does not mean you should skip the interview or do a shoddy job at it. Do a phone interview first to weed out 3/4 the candidates. Bring the rest in for an in-person interview. Do a structured interview and ask them some questions that require them to think on their feet and give you a good feel for their soft skills. You want people who can exude eager professionalism and be genuinely excited to help deliver a quality service to your customers.

Make it clear during the interview process that there will be an early probationary period where employment is not secure. They can leave at any time and they can be let go at any time. Tell them what you are looking for in an employee.

Minimize the risk by having them work alongside you or your best crew leader. This way the service quality won’t suffer. Keep them from handling cash so they can’t steal from you. Make their first few weeks very structured so you don’t have to worry about them slacking off.

Fire quickly. As soon as it’s clear someone is unmotivated, untrustworthy or a poor communicator let them go. As soon as they stand you up for a work shift let them go. As soon as someone fudges hours let them go.

Overall hiring employees is complex. There is no single guiding rulebook to doing this stuff right. It’s a lot of making the best hypothesis you can with the information you have available. Don’t get emotional about it. It’s about logic and doing whats best for the future of your business. Take the things in this article into consideration and don’t be afraid to attract and hire inexperienced employees but keep an open mind. Do what works for you.

This isn’t easy stuff. It takes setting aside time (that you likely don’t have) to recruit, interview, hire and train. There will be turnover. There will be headaches. There will be questions. There will be mistakes. But it’s the only way to build a business thats primed for growth in a stress free free way.

May 14, 2019 9:03 am

THE HIRING SERIES – Part 2 – Finding the ideal employee and convincing them to work for you (ep 49)

Show notes from episode 49.

Many industries have the luxury of having an abundance of talent applying for every position. Marketing agencies, big banks, private equity firms and the like. In the service sector we don’t have that luxury. There is a major shortage of people out there willing to do manual labor for $15 an hour.

It’s no secret it’s the number one challenge in our industry. Don’t believe me? Ask any small business owner what the hardest part of his job is. The answer is always the same – finding employees.

It’s a level playing field. All companies struggle. Turnover is high for everyone. Our competitors deal with the same problems. We just have to do it better than our competitors at building systems and finding the right people who can do it.

Put in the same effort marketing your business to potential employees as you do marketing your business to potential customers.

Just as you compete on price and quality with your competitors in respects to your service you must compete in these areas when appealing to potential employees.

We can compete on price by paying more. We can compete on quality by making our company a better place to work. If you do the 5 things from the previous post before you hire you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of your competitors off the bat. Your company will be a better place to work. You’ll be able to pay them more money.

You’ll win on price and quality.

But it’s not that simple. While we have simplified our system to the point where we don’t NEED unicorns and spectacularly competent people to work for us we do have a lot higher standards. We aren’t willing to hire chainsmokers with poor hygiene. We aren’t willing to hire grumpy gossipers. We aren’t willing to hire scruffy and unkept people. We aren’t willing to hire those who can’t pass a drug test and a background check.

To justify the higher price we charge we have to show up with clean cut employees who exude eager professionalism when they interact with our clients.

There are still reliable and competent employees out there ready and willing to work. Now let’s talk about how to find them and how to convince them to work for us. Paying them more and treating them better is not enough to really dominate your competitors in this area.

Don’t limit your efforts to the job boards.

Monster, Craigslist and Indeed should be utilized. Its a great way to get a steady flow of 20 applications per week. You should post and you should interview the candidates. Be selective on who you hire. You’ll find good talent here but it isn’t enough to staff an organization with the turnover and growth of a service business.

But you have to get creative with your recruiting so you have a larger pool of candidates to choose from. Recruiting follows many of the exact same principles as marketing. Just as we find your ideal customer and get creative in how you reach them we can do the same for our ideal employee.

Who is our ideal employee?

As a first hire for the typical service business we are looking for a clean cut reliable person who is a good communicator and can follow directions.

Some examples of people that might make a great fit for your business:

College students have a lot of free time and they often work at the campus bookstore for $9 per hour. Major companies don’t like to hire them because they invest resources teaching and training them just to lose them when they go back to school or graduate. They’ll be entering the job market next year for $50k a year but they’ll work right now for $12/hr. They’re often clean cut, reliable, great communicators and fast learners. They are hungry for experience and a resume boost. You can find great talent here if you are okay with turnover when they go back to school or graduate.

Hospitality and retail workers can make great employees during their off-peak times. They work evenings and weekends. You need employees who can commit to business hours when the sun is shining. This can be a great way for them to earn extra money and for you to get competent help.

Offer flexible hours to work around full time commitments that are always changing. The local prison here has guards that work 4 days on and 6 days off. Sometimes they work nights. Sometimes they work days. Sometimes it’s weekends. Some of them would love to have a flexible part time job during those long stretches of time off.

Find people with seasonal jobs or commitments.

Workers on oil rigs or fishing crews work 7-30 days on and then have several weeks or even months off. Many nurses and other fields work 3 12 hour days a week. That leaves 4 days off if they want to earn extra money. Teachers have summers off. Coaches have off-seasons off. Professional athletes in non-flashy sports often work side jobs. Hire them in the off season.

Uber drivers get busy on weekends and in the evening. Maybe they want to pick up more hours on a consistent basis on weekdays when things are slow for driving.

Turnover can be minimized by paying well and creating a great work environment but it is unavoidable. You have to keep a new supply of applicants applying for your jobs, going through training and joining your team.

Consider sharing employees with another company.

Seasonality should be considered. Find companies that you can collaborate with that have a different peak season. Security companies often have a ton of part time flexible staff that they put to work on evenings and weekends. Same with catering companies. Event co-ordination companies.

If you are a snow plowing company consider sharing employees with a lawn care company. If you are a lawn care company consider recruiting at your local ski resort that closes down all summer.

Find ways you can recruit employees from a more diverse pool.

Consider learning Spanish so you can open up your applicant pool to more people. Maybe you need a crew leader that is fluent in English but the crew members aren’t required to interact with customers.

Go after people with full time jobs that aren’t actively looking but have interest in making a change.

All this sounds great and easy right – but how do we reach them?

Go after off-market talent.

There are a lot of people out there who would love to work for you but aren’t actively seeking you out. They’ll never apply to your job on Indeed. They’ll never knock on your door. How can we find them?

I’m a big proponent of guerrilla recruiting and doing things that don’t scale. My competitors aren’t doing these things because they are hard to do. They are sweaty. They are gritty. They are sometimes risky or laughable. They’re almost always uncomfortable.

Get in front of people physically.

Take a pocket full of business cards or flyers to the gym at 6pm. Stand out on the sidewalk downtown. Go to the local basketball courts. Walk up to anyone who looks like a possible candidate and say:

“Hey – do you know anyone looking for work? We are hiring a lot of positions with flexible hours this summer and we pay $15 per hour. Here is my card. Have anyone you know reach out!”

This is a lot less awkward and a lot less pushy than asking the person directly if THEY are the ones looking for work. You’ll end up sparking conversation with people and they’ll have questions. They’ll consider applying themselves. They’ll tell a friend that they know.

This sound silly but it works VERY well. I’ve spent many hours on the street corners of college campuses doing this type of recruiting. We’ve found some great employees this way.

Write chalk advertisements on the ground. I’ve written the following in sidewalk chalk in high traffic areas thousands of times:

“$15/hr + tips. Flexible Hours. StorageSquad.com/Employment

Put small lawn signs out that say the same thing. Put flyers in local Gyms and fast food restaurants. Get creative here and get sweaty! This stuff works and it will likely turn into your #1 recruiting method.

Consider setting up a formal internship program for college students. College students really struggle to get real world experience. Companies would rather have them push paper around than invest the time and energy in teaching them how to add value within the company.

You can delegate real tasks and get real value out of college students. My company is ran by student managers at each of our universities. They work part time during the school year and then during our busy season play key roles.

Find people in leadership positions that could refer people to your company.

The principle of an elementary school. The head football coach. A trainer who works with a lot of semi pro athletes. The internship director at your local college. Your local chamber of commerce.

Make a landing page and put an application on your website. This page should make it easy to learn more. This page should get people excited to work for you.

Consider making a recruiting video (warning cringeworthy content I made in 2014 that needs updated) for the webpage. Record yourself talking about the job and why it’s different and why your company is such a fun place to work. Interview your current employees. Ask them what they love about the job. Ask them how it has helped their careers. Ask them about helping customers. Record their responses and put together a video that your potential employees can watch to get excited.

Lean on your personal network of family and friends. I know this might not be vast in your city but it can be very effective. Facebook has been a great way to find employees for us. We post about the great wages and flexible hours and we get 10 or 20 good applications.

Offer a referral bonus for current employees if they help you recruit a new employee. $50 or $100 will go a long way to encourage your current workers to reach out to their personal networks to convince friends and family members to apply to the job.

If you have multiple locations consider bringing in employees from other cities and covering housing expenses. Have a college aged cousin in another city that wants to bust it all summer and earn some money? Have him come live in your basement for the summer. We travel our employees often. We put them up in hotels or let them sleep in our guest bedrooms if they come in and work hard for a week or so during our busy season. This adds to the cost but it can be an effective way of doing it in some cases.

In my experience the best hires rarely come from paid job boards. You’ll find good talent, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t plentiful. Our hire rate is low. Give some of these other methods a shot and track what works and then double down!

May 8, 2019 6:58 am

A glimpse at the intensity and dedication it takes to build a successful business – working 10 hours a day for 50 days straight

Max Maher released another video of a challenge where he worked 10 hours a day for 50 days straight.

For reference Max is 23 years old and runs Skinny Wimp moving company in Phoenix AZ. I interviewedhim to discuss the founding of the business along with his 500 business connections experiment where he drummed up $30k a month in recurring business by going out and getting face to face with a bunch of people.

I personally believe balance is critical once you have your business off the ground but this just shows you what you can really accomplish in the early days if you are trying to make a change in your life and buck the 9/5 and get something off the ground!

I’m sure Max will check in on the comment section here periodically if you have any questions for him.

Episode notes from Max’s original post:

50 Days

At the beginning of the new year I started an experiment. I was going to work 50 days straight with at least 10 productive hours every single day. My goal is complete. From January 1st to February 19 I worked at least 10 hours every single day, with some days as much as 15 hours of productive time. This is my experience.

For those who are more visual I will link to my video in the below that goes over all this information with some cool visuals

Overview

I’m going to first go over my schedule, touch on productivity, followed by my mentality throughout, and lastly the effects and concerns I noticed. I would to preface this by saying this is not me condoning lack of sleep, I don’t function well on lack of sleep. The goal was productivity not how long I could stay up. while doing this challenge I slept 7-8 hrs every single night.

Schedule

I set a very consistent schedule of waking up between 4:45 and 5am everyday then I would eat breakfast and be at the gym by 6am except for Monday’s I’d skip the gym. Then I’d be at work by 7:45am to greet employees coming in at 8am. My work after that Mon-Fri would be a mix of in office work or out of the office marketing until 7pm when I would come home eat, play piano and go to sleep. On weekends I would stay at the office only until noon so I could then spend the rest of the day working on videos, cooking, doing laundry, and prepping for the upcoming week. Whenever I was driving I would listen to audiobooks.

The time I consider work is time spent running my companies or time working on these videos. Total productive time is categorized as any time doing productive non-leisure activities. Things like work, exercise, piano, and reading.

Productivity

The first week or so it was hard to wake up that early but after the first week it was a breeze.

I timed my daily activities before and during this challenge with an app called aTimelogger. Before this challenge I woke up around 6am worked 45-60 hours a week on my companies and 80ish total hours of productive time. During the last 6 weeks I have upped my normal amount by as much as 70% even clocking in a few perfect weeks which is what I define as a week I literally couldn’t have spent anymore productive time without foregoing sleep.

The amount I was able to complete any given week was without a doubt at least double the amount normal despite only spending 70% more time working. I noticed that by simply being aware that no matter what all I would be doing is working the entire day and not expecting rest made me search out more and more things things to do. I was completing all of the “it would be nice to try” things instead of just thinking about them and how I’ll get to them someday. I got a massive marketing accomplishment completed on top of my normal workload which I documented the entire process and dubbed “500 Connections” which is returning me me 10s of thousands a month (I will link below). I found that the more I did the more I wanted to do more like a ball rolling down a hill gaining momentum and I found myself wanting to see what my absolute limits were.

As far as workouts go I didn’t have much of an issue making it to the gym although I did notice having slightly less energy and excitement to get a workout in.

Getting this much done was as much an exercise in not doing things as it was in doing them. I didn’t turn on the TV once, I didn’t sit around on social media when I should have been working, I didn’t lay in bed for an hour before getting up because I simply framed it in my mind that that wasn’t an option to do those things. And the craziest thing was I didn’t even have desire to do those things.

During this period I couldn’t have been more pleased with the productivity however it probably wasn’t 100% sustainable

Mentality:

Despite some drawbacks later on I felt extremely satisfied and happy with myself day after day. I am someone who prides himself in being a hard worker and it was an amazing feeling to look back week after week and know that I couldn’t have given anymore effort and was surprised in how much I could actually handle.

If you’re like me and like to be identified as a hard worker I will tell you right now if you’re really putting in the hours people will notice and they will comment much quicker than you think. Within 3 weeks of consistent work I received almost daily comments from employees about how many hours i’ve been putting in or being crazy for how late I was there the night before. I sat on the sofa one day after work and my brother said to someone “this is the longest you’ll ever see him sitting down”

I am a calm person by default but during this marathon I was even more calm, had lower stress and had zero anxious moments, most likely due to a combination of being exhausted and not having any time to sit and worry about anything. It actually increased my confidence.

Negatives

However the mind-shift that I could do nothing but productive things negatively impacted my social life. The thought of going on a date or out to the bar sounded like the furthest thing from enjoyable. I found myself not texting people back and turning down every social event. I knew If I went out I would be wishing I was back in the office getting my work done. This is obviously not a sustainable lifestyle but I was afraid to stop my momentum.

The worst side effects were mentally after about day 30 I noticed myself becoming increasingly forgetful and my mind slipping. I lost my car keys more than once, locked keys inside a crate at work, and had to start writing down nearly every task I had to do as soon as I thought of it, I even shut the garage door on my car once. After around day 35 my ability to play piano regressed massively in the evening felt like I went back a year and was re-learning to play again.

Obviously there was something negative happening in my brain on the last stretch but several times I tried to research if it is actually harmful to work all day for extended periods without mental breaks and the only studies I could find had to do with lack of sleep so if anyone can find a study on this please send it to me. The entire time I slept enough and ate enough so I am unsure what was happening internally, I was only the guinea pig in this experiment.

Overall I am glad I did this and my biggest takeaway is we are all capable of much more than we think we are. I think it is sometimes necessary to find our limits in order to be able to grasp how much we can actually handle. And my recommendation to anyone trying to be more productive is to set highly specific goals and track your progress, maybe make a project out of it like this. I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of doing this until I did and although I probably won’t do a stretch this long again I feel that now that I’ve done it regular 20-25 day stretches seems much more doable with an entirely new frame of reference.

May 8, 2019 6:14 am

THE HIRING SERIES – Part 1 – 5 things you need to do before you make your first hire (Ep 48)

Show notes from episode 48.

First a little bit of background on me and my experience with this stuff. We have hired 13 different full time employees and 1000+ part time employees over the past 9 years since we started. We are a pickup and delivery storage company. We aren’t a tech company. We aren’t scientists. Is our company simple? Far from it. Our logistics are crazy. But it’s not rocket science.

Of the full timers most of them we placed in bigger and better jobs for bigger and better companies. A few were let go. One of them quit. I challenged and empowered them and they learned alongside me. We run a small niche company. I would estimate the entire USA market is $10MM in my industry. So its natural that some of them ended up outgrowing our company.

Soon the value they could add for someone else with a larger higher profit margin business was larger than they could add for me so the balance was off and it made sense for them to move on to bigger and better things and get paid more money.

Let’s start with a hypothetical you are probably all too familiar with. It happens to every entrepreneur when they finally get some momentum.

The phone keeps ringing but you can’t answer it. You are busy and can’t focus on the important stuff that isn’t urgent. You are running around putting out fires. Your lead time is increasing and speed is no longer your competitive advantage. You need some help.

This is good news. It means the business is growing. Your concept has been proven. There is room for you in the market. You have an opportunity here. Making a hire is the next step.

But hiring is the hard part and it’s the part that many many businesses can never get right. It’s what keeps small stressful businesses from becoming organized profitable businesses ready to grow. This is exactly where most small businesses get stuck and why it’s hard to find a local small business that answers the phone and can meet you tomorrow to help you solve your problems.

Hiring is hard because nobody else will work as fast as you do. Nobody else will care as much as you do. They’ll make more mistakes. They’ll ask a lot of questions. We hear it all the time and could go on and on and on with the reasons this isn’t an easy step.

The first step is understanding that a switch in perspective needs to take place and your role in the company will totally change.

You have to make the switch from laborer to manager. From doer to delegator. Just because you know how to do the job perfectly does not mean that you know how to train and manage others on delivering a consistent service to your customers.

The job requires skills. The job requires experience. It’s complicated to do. Okay I get that. Before you make a hire you need to do three things:

1. Get comfortable charging more for your services

Far too many business owners and operators undervalue their service and choose to compete on price because they feel like they have to get every customer that walks in the door.

Let’s make an assumption here and say that 50% of the customers in the market care only about the price and they are okay accepting a slow turnaround and/or shoddy service. You need to ignore these customers all together and feel perfectly fine turning them away and losing out on their business. Your service isn’t designed for them.

You can’t get emotionally attached to a lead. You will lose leads. You will get turned down. You will have people try to haggle with you and stomp off in a fit of rage when you refuse to play the game. That is perfectly OK. You have to make the choice NOT to compete on price. Podcast episode 13 talks more about this.

Your service is designed for people who are looking for quality service on a quick timeline and are willing to pay a premium for those things. So what does this mean?

Its a numbers game. Converting 30% of your leads charging 50% higher is a lot better than converting 75% of your leads 10% above your costs. Play the game and stand by your guns. You will lose some customers. Thats expected. This is the hard work of building a scalable and healthy business.

Charging more does a number of great things for your business. It allows you to pay your employees better and invest more in a more selective hiring process with background checks and more thorough interviews. It allows you to invest resources in managing them and making sure they have the tools they need to succeed. It puts some padding in there so you can step back and work on the stuff that is important but not urgent and delegate things that aren’t in your wheelhouse. It allows you to focus on what you are best at and turn down business. It allows you to fire customers that are causing most of your problems.

2. Simplify the job by breaking it down to its simplest form and removing non-essential tasks

Even an amazing employee can’t thrive in an environment where they are asked to do 30 things well. Take as much off of their plate as possible so they can focus on doing their main objective well and aren’t spread thin among a bunch of different tasks.

We learned this lesson the hard way at Storage Squad. We used to have a 30 item checklist on the back of the clipboard each of our employees carried with all of the jobs they needed to remember to do when servicing a customer. It ranged from customer service to box labeling to billing to loading to scheduling.

They sucked at everything. Ivy league kids were failing miserably at delivering a consistent service to our customers. Our training was complicated and took a lot of time and energy. When we finally got an employee trained up and doing a decent job turnover would cripple us.

We figured out we needed to simplify their tasks and take as much off their plate as possible. Instead of training them to be proficient (at best) at customer service we directed all of the customer service to a specialist who focused on doing only that job really well. We had employees focus on driving and loading the truck and instead of also having them unload and organize the warehouse we had a totally separate team do that. We had specialist employees handle the billing. We had someone off-site handle the scheduling and communication with customers. And on and on.

When we simplified it they did much better. Training was much simpler. Turnover was easier to deal with. Average employees begin to thrive and we didn’t need to find spectacular people to implement our system.

3. Start by delegating the low-skilled aspects of the job

Looking at the big picture it’s easy to think there is no way someone who isn’t you could do the required task. But when you start to break it down and think about all the actual tasks you will be asking them to complete it often paints a different picture.

I have a friend who is a loan officer and business is booming for him. He is extremely busy and works at least 70 hours a week but he is doing great and makes really good money. He is starting to bump up against the wall of what he can personally get done in the business. His lead time is starting to slip. He isn’t able to devote the necessary energy to new leads to tie them down, etc.

He runs his own branch and has a lot of autonomy and he has the freedom to staff his office based on his needs. We began chatting about this and he mentioned to me “I have to hire someone experienced in the home mortgage industry but that is expensive as the average loan officer in town makes about $70k a year.”

I asked him why he needed experience and he told me that the job is complicated and an inexperienced person wouldn’t understand how it all works and that he doesn’t have the time or energy available to train a new person.

So I had him track his time at work for one day. He used the app aTimeLogger and we set up the categories. The top task for the day, which he spent roughly 3 of his 9 working hours doing, was “Compiling and completing loan applications to send to underwriting”. This involves a lot of phone calls, emails and dealing with customers to get all the required tax returns and bank statements and the like ready to send off.

So I asked him more about the process and we came to the conclusion that most of it is busy work. I asked him how long he would need to spend with me personally to make it so that I could help him and do 90% of the required stuff for that task without asking questions.

He said if we went through 2 loan applications together in about 3 hours I could probably do enough to be a really big help and after about a week of experience and questions I’d probably have 100% of it down for 95% of his applicants.

He makes $250k a year. The hardest part of what he does is make the sale. He is on the phone and in meetings with people earning their trust and convincing them to trust him with the huge life event that is financing a home.

But he only spends about 25% of his time on the phone with leads and drumming up new business. The rest of it is busywork that he could delegate if he only simplified the ask and had the employee who makes $40k a year do a lot of it. It doesn’t make sense for him to hire a high powered loan officer because he doesn’t need help drumming up business. That is his strength. He needs help with the busywork and an inexperienced person would prove very valuable to him!

4. Build out systems and a structure for your employees to follow

Hiring your first employee is very uncomfortable. It’s scary. The anxiety in fact can be so crippling that many many people can’t take the leap from freelancer to entrepreneur because they just can’t deal with the risk.

So what is the goal of hiring your first employee? TO MINIMIZE RISK.

When you are hiring your first employee you need someone willing to follow your lead and follow your process. You need someone who will listen to you and will do as you tell them to do.

It is VERY RISKY to hire someone and let them do their own thing with little structure. You do not know the person. It’s as simple as that. You are trusting your business in the hands of someone that you do not know. You are trusting them to take care of your customers. To operate your equipment. This is a big deal.

This is why so many people gravitate towards hiring and partnering with their friends. To try to mitigate risk of the unknown. I have done this and it can be great but more often than not it causes problems. That’s why you need a system and a stranger willing to follow that system.

Employees want structure and processes. You want structure and processes. At this point in the early days you know the best way to do things because you have been out doing it. You want someone who is willing to do it your way.

Now that you have a simplified job description its time to build the guide. If this happens, do this. If that happens, do that. There will always be surprises and later we’ll deal with how to help employees get better at making their own decisions but for now you want to remove all doubt and make that person an extension of you.

5. Get your compliance in place before an employee starts the work and be aware of the extra cost.

Hiring employees is expensive and requires a good deal of administrative work.

While paying an employee under the table is tempting it is illegal and risky. You need to get insurance and register with the required local, state and federal agencies for tax purposes.

Insurance first.

You need workers compensation insurance in place to cover you and your workers in the event that an employee gets injured on the job. This is often paid as a minimum at first but as you grow it is directly correlated with total payroll as a percentage. This is handled by a state agency so it varies by state. Sometimes you are required to purchase this insurance through the state. In other states you have the option to go private or purchase through the state. If you are a young company in a high risk industry you are often left with only the state option.

The more risky the job the higher the percentage. Roofing has the highest in most cases. Nearly 40% of the wage can be paid in the form of workers compensation insurance. More often this is more like 15% for most labor jobs and 5% for most clerical office/computer jobs.

Each employee in your company will have a different “class code’ based on the work they do. The code determines the cost of the workers compensation. Make sure you differentiate between your customer service reps and your laborers so you don’t have to pay for high risk workers compensation on your clerical staff or management.

You will have a payroll audit and they will determine your final liability based on your class codes and your records. Keep good records – more on that soon.

Unemployment insurance (FUTA) is next and its taxed at both the federal and state level. This is a complicated system and your rates go up or go down based on employees claiming unemployment after they leave your company. It is usually about 1% of wages up to a certain amount but can be 6%. Here is some more information. Expect this to be no more than $500 per employee per year and often much less.

Disability insurance is another one related to payroll as a percentage. In some instances an employee is required to opt in and get money withheld for short term disability. Long term disability is covered by the employer as a percentage depending on the state it is between 1-3%.

Liability, property, auto and umbrella insurance. You need these things to protect your business and personal assets in the event of an accident. Generally 3 different policies. More here.

Payroll taxes next.

FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes are taxes based on payroll that fund social security and medicare. The total liability that you need to submit to the government is 15.5% of wages. You as employer pay ½ and the employee pays ½ and their half is withheld from their payroll. You need to register with the IRS so you can pay and withhold FICA taxes.

You are required to pay 7.75% of the employees wages on top of their standard earnings in the form of FICA.

How much will this cost? It depends on the industry but I’ll give you an idea based on my own experience in the moving and storage business.

We pay our laborers $15 per hour in most cases. We’re in a 33% workers compensation bracket in one of our states. We pay 7.75% FICA. 2% disability and 2% unemployment (after a few claims per year).

That is an extra 44.75% on top of the hourly wage for a total of $6.71 extra per hour per employee. That turns the $15 wage into a $21.71 liability. And whats more the employee’s $15 per hour turns into only $13.84 after FICA and about $10.50 after taxes are withheld.

It’s tempting to pay your employees cash or treat them as independent contractors and just send them a 1099. This isn’t the right way to do business. These taxes go back to the workforce over time and provide valuable safety nets for everyone involved. Look at it as the cost of doing business and operating in such a stable political and economic environment. Price it into your services and follow the rules so you can grow a healthy scalable company.

I recommend an online payroll service. Not only do you need to have all of your ducks in a row on insurance and taxes but you also must have an I-9 form and a W2 filled out for each employee or you are at risk. I use Gusto and they let me manage it all from my computer. They do the withholding. They do the reporting. They help me efficiently file all the necessary forms. They even let my employees fill out their forms from their phones so I can remain paperless.

So on a $15 per hour wage our cost is $21.71 per hour and the employee only sees $10.50 in his bank account.

Don’t forget the background checks and drug tests as well that run a few hundred dollars to onboard a new employee. Plus the 10 hours paid training time for each employee. Plus the time we spend interviewing 10 employees for every 1 we hire. Plus the time and money we spend recruiting employees. Plus the time and money we spend building training systems and videos to teach them the work.

Add that to the fact turnover is common in hard labor intensive work and the average employee will only last 4 weeks and the total cost per hour rises to about $30. Thats 2x the offering wage and nearly 3x the take home pay.

So what does this mean?

See step 1.

Get comfortable charging more for your services. Ever wonder why a moving company bills you $50 per man hour but only pays their employees $15? It’s because they have to do it to make any money.

Do things right so you can deliver a consistent service and then get comfortable charging more for your services so you can build a healthy company ready for growth.

May 6, 2019 6:15 am

How can I get into real estate through rental properties?

A listener reached out with a question. They’re saving some money each month and want to set up a passive income stream through local rental properties.

Real estate is a tough market to get into right now. Not saying impossible just a fair warning:

It’s competitive. The economy has been booming for a long time. Everyone and their brother has a little bit of extra cash sitting on the side and is asking themselves the exact same question you are asking right now. This is the first passive income stream most people with some savings explore. Its really easy to borrow $ right now and the rates are low. This makes it even more competitive. Put simply – its harder than ever to find good deals. Not impossible. But harder.

Some cities are way overpriced because of weird market factors – mostly large cities. Boston, DC, NYC, San Fran has experienced a massive influx of foreign money that simply purchases and sits on this real estate. That drives the prices up a lot faster than rents go up. The cap rates (return multiples) goes down. People are buying real estate in Manhattan at a 2 CAP. That means they are excepting a 2% return on their cash in the form of profit. INSANE.

There are a lot of risk factors. What if you are in a college town and the college decides they want more money so they build a bunch more housing and require students to live in it? They do that all the time. What if a large employer closes up shop or moves? What if a huge development gets approved and the market floods with new supply?

I always say don’t start playing in real estate unless you can handle the worst case scenario and get through it.

What I would recommend:

#1 Start a service business that has the potential to lead into real estate down the road. Do it while you have a job. Consider starting a rental property management company that focuses on short term rentals. Learn the market that way. Collect data. Use the data to convince partners to invest with you.

#2 Find a real estate niche so you can compete against fewer buyers.

If a property is on Zillow it’s often too late. Thousands of people shop on Zillow for turnkey investments. That makes them overpriced and it reduces upside and potential. Find a way to buy off-market property. Cleaning up tax liens would be a good way to take others out of the market (as the other commenter mentioned). Getting an investor partner and buying with all-cash allows you to get foreclosures and buy from people who need a quick simple close (like those “we buy houses” signs you see). Learn a trade and fix the homes yourself. These are just a few of many.

#3. Create and study a cashflow projection spreadsheet.

Estimate your revenue and expenses on a monthly basis. All of your expenses. All of your interest. All of your maintenance. Taxes. Everything. Make sure it works out. Run them a few different ways. What if the tenant stops paying? What if taxes go up? They won’t go down that’s for sure.

May 3, 2019 6:07 am

Starbucks spent millions getting facebook followers and now they have to pay to reach them

Starbucks spent 10 years spending big money each year, I’m guessing 10s of millions of dollars, getting followers on Facebook. The plan was simple. The goal was to get followers and then reach them organically and drive value over time.

Right now they have 36 million followers on Facebook.

Well it turns out Facebook likes making ad revenue. It turns out Facebook owns the platform and has all the control. Slowly over time Starbucks started noticing their Facebook posts were only reaching 1% of their following. How could this be? We spent all this money to get these followers and now we can’t reach them. Facebook’s response?

You can reach the last 99% if you boost your posts and continue to pay for ads. Facebook has every right to do this. Its their platform. Its their algorithm. They have the users and they call the shots.

Starbucks spent millions getting the followers on someone else’s platform with no control and now they are paying again to reach them.

This concept expanded to YouTube, Google, Yelp and Amazon here.

This is another reason why I love service based businesses.

Businesses with sales that are driven by actual interaction that goes beyond a click or an online ad are most insulated from the above risks. If you can speak to your customers on the phone or by email it’s a lot easier to control that and nurture that on your own terms.

Taking that one step further if your business reaches customers on a local level and those customers can interact with each other in the form of word of mouth marketing you are further protected. Your customers are not only face to face with you but they rely on each other for recommendations and there are synergies with all the different marketing drivers.

May 1, 2019 6:40 am

Why did I move to Athens GA?

From 2013-2017 my partner and I rented a small apartment in Boston as our company “office” and went there very day with our employees. We were still very hands on and we were most productive together. It was a scrappy time where we really accomplished a lot to set us up for the success we enjoy now.

I switched over to full time self storage development / management in 2017 and have been doing that ever since.

My businesses are now largely location independent. I manage the self storage facility completely remotely and do the majority of my construction related tasks off site and visit each project monthly or bi-monthly.

So when I had my first child and my wife and I got tired of living in a crappy 2 bedroom upstairs apartment with slanted floors and broken down appliances littering the property for $2,000 a month + utilities we started shopping for homes in the Boston area.

Extremely pricey. Not enough homes. Foreign money coming in and buying property to sit empty. We’re talking 50 year old homes 45 minutes from downtown Boston without a garage for $750k + $10k a year in property taxes. Crazy stuff and a horrible shopping experience that lasted all of about 2 days before we had an all hands meeting and my partner and I decided to take the company remote.

He wanted to head to Chicago. A lot going on there for a single guy in his 20s and a lot of hometown connections for him.

So where did we want to move? We had no idea. My wife and I were both from small towns (Watkins Glen NY and Leopold IN) so we didn’t want to go back home.

The only thing really limiting us was that I needed to be on central or eastern time and near a major airport.

So we approached the decision analytically. Here was the criteria:

  1. East of the Mississippi River
  2. Within 1-1.5 hours of a major airport
  3. Vibrant downtown (preferably a college town that isn’t too small and only college)
  4. Warm weather / mild winters
  5. A new build home with 4 bedrooms less than 15 minutes from the downtown scene for under $300k.

My wife loves food, live music, hiking, yoga and she wanted to be able to meet some other couples with young kids. I love craft breweries, college athletics, cycling, fishing, outdoor activities and nightlife when my friends visit.

So there were a lot of cities that fit the bill for the first 4 criteria. It was the last one that took basically all but one out of the equation. We went on a winter tour in January of 2018 and visited Raleigh NC and Athens GA.

Raleigh was too pricey. A home in a decent neighborhood 15 minutes from downtown was going to run $450k+.

So Athens it was. We didn’t know anyone within 5 hours and we were going to be 8 hours from my hometown and 14 hours from my wife’s.

We bought a 4 bedroom brand new house for $289k 12 minutes from the vibrant downtown area. The taxes are low. The people are super nice. We already have some GREAT friends with a 2 year old as well that we get together with spontaneously all the time.

We’re an hour and twenty minutes from the largest airport in the world with round trip straight flights to my work destinations for cheap cheap.

My son’s first words were “Go Dawgs”. We had a raging company retreat when Auburn played UGA in Athens. Basketball games are electric. The baseball team is #2 in the country right now.

There are 5 craft breweries in town making delicious beer. There are 3 local coffee roasters. 90 bars and restaurants downtown with things going on every night of the week. A great music scene.

Its a pro cycling hub and a lot of amateurs also race so I quickly fit in well and actually founded a cycling team with a friend sponsored by Storage Squad of course.

Our friends and family have been visiting us a ton. My wife’s uncle ended up loving athens and actually moved here and her parents are currently shopping for a retirement home here before baby #2 comes in August.

We’re 10 minutes from a great bass fishing lake where I take my Hobie Kayak once every few weeks. We’re 40 minutes from Lake Hartwell.

Almost a year later my wife and I both love it here and we’re very happy with our decision!

If you are ever in the neighborhood give me a shout and we’ll meet up for a beer if its after 10am or a coffee if its before!

April 30, 2019 6:17 am

How to build a “frankenbusiness” by copying the best practices from the big players in your space (Ep 46)

Show notes from podcast episode 46.

The great thing about entering an existing market is that the moving parts are already out there ready for us to study. The customers are there. The competitors are one click and one phone call away.

There are three factors in business on which we can choose to compete. The first is speed and responsiveness – getting the service to the customer faster. The second is quality – offering a superior service. And the third is price – offering the service at a lower price.

Generally we don’t want to be the cheapest option on the market. We want to be the fastest and the highest quality so customers are happy to pay us 2x more than our competitors because the value is there.

So for now let’s think about price in terms of efficiency and cost. If you spend unlimited money within your business it’s easy to offer a service both fast and the best. But that’s not an option. So let’s think of competing on price as being able to offer a very low cost service because our costs are relatively low.

So if we improve our speed and quality we increase value and can charge more for our services and if we improve efficiency and reduce costs we generate more profit.

So if we can improve any of the three factors over our local competitors we will have a competitive advantage.

Now let’s talk about how we can do that by being a copycat.

Remember the market study?

We can use this same strategy to learn our competitors and use that information to design our website, pricing structure, marketing strategy, customer service approach and more.

What we are going to do is build a franken-business. Take what we love about several different businesses and build the ultimate beast of a business that can thrive on a local level by doing all three competitive factors well.

Emulating success is the best way to succeed.

In school we are taught that copying is bad. Looking up answers online is bad. But in every other area of life that is the best way to get ahead.

Want to get better at sports? Emulate the superstar in your field. Want to get better at guitar? Emulate the best guitar player you know. Want to get better at business? Emulate the businesses that are successful.

The place to start is by studying big franchised companies that offer services in several cities. None of them compete on price. They all charge more and (sometimes) offer faster and better service.

These companies thrive with their online presence, branding and sales oriented customer service. They answer the phone every time with a smile and follow up 30 minutes after you reach out and keep following up every day.

They have hiring and training systems in place. They simplify the job so average employees can deliver a consistent service to the customer.

The big players have a proven scalable model.

So get on the horn and find the largest looking and most highest volume company in the entire country and call them up. Devour their website content. Write down their sales lines on the phone. Ask them about their volume. Ask them about the way it all works from the viewpoint of the customer.

We ask them about the quality. We ask them about the speed and responsiveness (turn around time). We ask them about the price. We ask about volume. We ask about experience. We ask about crew size.

This is a really uncomfortable thing to do at first for a lot of people. It feels almost as if you are spying or stealing from your competitors and in a way you are. But rest assured that you likely aren’t going to take much business if any.

Knowing this information we can easily get a feeling for how hard it will be to compete. We’ll likely find a lot of things we don’t like about the competitors. A bad website. A rude customer service rep. Several weeks before we can get an appointment.

Get a quote from each of the top competitors. Its free to do this and gives you a look directly inside the competitor’s business. It can often get you an in person visit to really dive in and ask a bunch of questions and learn a lot.

Make a list of key questions beforehand. Feel out how the conversation with the reps are going and don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about volume and size of the company. How many crews do you have? How many customers do you service each year? Are you generally busy in the winter as well?

As a business owner I get similar questions from legitimate customers all the time – they genuinely want to know about volume because they want a company that has experience and runs a legitimate operation. If other customers trust this company I can trust them too!

Ask the rep if they like their job. You will be very surprised at the doors this will open up in the conversation. Max Maher did exactly this when he did his 500 business connection experiment. Employees really start to open up and vent about what they like and dislike about the company and its inner workings!

Use ahrefs.com to study their local keywords and content marketing strategy. Find out how they title their articles, pages and videos. Digest this information and mimic it!

Look at and call a lot of different companies. Take what you like about each one. Ignore what you don’t like. Before you know it you’ll have a system for customer service, billing, quoting and a website just like the big profitable players. You know there system is working and you now have the same system.

The big kicker is you can do this now at a fraction of the cost.

The one thing we don’t want to copy from the big dogs is the cost/efficiency side of things. You can offer your service much more efficiently and at much lower costs than they can. You don’t need a full time office staff. You don’t even need an office. You don’t need a full time accountant. You don’t need to spend $50k on a website. You get the point.

This is where tech comes into play. 10 years ago we had to have an office. We had to pay big bucks to get custom software built. We had to hire full time employees to take care of a lot of things that we can now outsource. Nowadays we can get software out of the box for $100 per month that is twice as good as what the big franchises spent $500k to have built back in the day.

As a franchise owner of a service business you likely pay 20-30% of your overall revenue in the form of branding and franchise fees. This all goes to the franchise to support the company overhead and generate shareholder earnings.

In some situations you can offer a service right on par with the big dogs without all the overhead and have a much better profit margin.

Even as you grow and years after launching make a habit to study your competitors on a consistent basis. Always keep an open mind about making changes even when things are working. Be the first person to adopt new ideas that other competitors are implementing to offer better and faster services or more efficient, lower cost operations.

I’ve implemented these strategies myself multiple times and it has been incredibly valuable. When we first got into the student storage space there were several competitors already operational. We studied all of them from the mom and pops to the national players and took bits and pieces from each. We found one company that offered free boxes and loved that idea and started doing that. We found another that had pickup stations to make pickups more efficient so we implemented that and so on.

We did the same thing with our self storage model. We loved the rate management, branding and digital marketing strategies of the big players. We loved how a few small operators managed the facilities 100% remotely with no on-site manager. We combined both of these to build our own hybrid strategy to cut costs over the big players but drive revenue faster than the small players.

Overall – this is a step many entrepreneurs skip because they already think they know the best practices and aren’t willing to have an open mind and study what actually works and implement changes based on those findings. Make it happen and you’ll have a huge advantage!

April 29, 2019 6:20 am

How 142 hours of guerrilla marketing earned a moving company in Phoenix $30k a month in recurring revenue

Show notes from Episode 44.

A lesson in the power of getting face to face with people in this interview with entrepreneur Max Maher. He owns a company in Phoenix called Skinny Wimp Moving. Hes 23 years old and brings in over a million a year in sales with a 30% profit margin.

He did an experiment where he went out and got face to face with 500 people and businesses who could potentially refer him residential moving customers. Self storage facilities, apartment complexes, realtor offices, furniture stores, and more. He tried to be likable, carry on a great conversation and get a business card from them so he could send a thank you email and continue to follow up. He rated every connection on a 1-3 scale and sent a gift to the 40 that he felt he had the best connection with.

Max employs the “knock twice” sales method where you follow up and continue to visit leads even if they act uninterested initially. Visiting 3 times finally won him over a high end furniture store that now sends him thousands of dollars a month in moves.

In 142 hours of work he generated an extra $30k per month in sales for his moving company.

He got his start by building a pool service company and doing a lot of similar face-to-face marketing. In the podcast interview we discuss how he finds great employees by walking up to people in public and some of the lessons Max has learned while building several businesses from the ground up and BUYING a failing moving company at the age of 19 and turning it around.

In the age of a competitive digital marketing landscape people often forget about the value in face to face personal interactions. This is a prime example of what you can do without any money and just a little sweat and determination.

April 26, 2019 8:18 am

How to build out a walk in closet – a great business opportunity

I moved into a new house recently and all of my amazing storage space had cheap crappy wire shelving inside. The main issues were my walk in closet:

And my laundry room:

I didn’t get a before picture of the pantry but it was also pretty bad.

So I called California Closets and Inspired closets. Two national chains and the only providers of a service like this in Athens GA. They both had very slow response times and took more than 3 weeks to visit my home to do a walk through and then another 2 weeks to get a quote.

They were PRICEY. California came with this proposal for $2,929:

Our goal was to get rid of our dressers in our master bedroom and have some drawers in the closet so we could fit all of our clothing in there.

Eric let us know that an option with 16 drawers (8 for each of us) would be $5,000 or more plus tax. He also let me know the install team is backed up and it would take 6 weeks until they could get to the job. I didn’t bother hassling him for a quote.

So I shopped around a bit and decided to buy some Easy Track systems from Build.com. I looked around my house and decided to not only build out my master closet but also my laundry room, pantry, three guest bedroom closets and basement bedroom closet.

I measured each closet and drew some designs on a notebook:

Then I made a list of the Easy Track systems I would need to order to accomplish all of this:

Then I compiled my order on Build.com. I called them and was able to get a 10% discount on the pricing you see here:

$2,710.02 + $189.70 tax for a grand total of: $2,899.72

Then I borrowed my neighbors miter saw and got to work. First I ripped out the old wire shelving and then spackled the holes and repainted. This took about an hour. I drank 2 miller lites while doing this. If you end up starting a business I recommend skipping that step.

I drank two more miller lites and listened to this audiobook while I put together all 16 drawers with wood glue and a rubber mallet. This took about 3 hours total and was the hardest part of the entire process.

The next morning I hung the track system on the wall using my laser level (which is the most handy tool ever for a home owner) and started the install. This took a total of about 8 hours for the master closet. I got a lot faster on the second half. If I were doing it again I would probably get it done in closer to 5 hours.

This is the final product:

I’m really happy with the result. We cleaned out all three of our dressers and fit all of the things from the previous closet layout in with ease. My wife and I made a promise to never have more clothing than what will fit in this closet. If its full we have to donate something in order to buy something.

Next I did the same thing for the pantry and the laundry room:

There is a lot of hanger space out of sight on the right hand side.

I went on and did the other 4 closets and easily multiplied my available storage space in this home by 8x overall.

How much would all this work have cost me if I hired it out? No telling. Maybe $8k? $10k? 15k? Not to mention the fact it would have taken about 10 weeks from the desire to get it done to actually getting it done.

I spent about 20 hours and $3k. If I did it again right now I think I could do it in 10-12.

Doing this while you have a full time job is the perfect way to start. More on that here.

Buy a web domain and hosting for $1.99 per month and build a WordPress site. Get a Google My Business location at your home. I wrote down all the early tools I used here if you’d like to check it out. Google is going to power your business early on. Get a logo and some door hanging flyers put together using a freelancing site. Get your logo embroidered on a nice polo shirt.

Write some great content focused around keywords in your town. Use ahrefs.com to research the keywords you want to target and build some DIY closet building guides for homeowners in your town using those keywords. Some really useful stuff that people will engage with. Thats content marketing and its the best way to get a leg up on google. More on that here. Put videos of yourself doing these closets on youtube targeting ideal keywords.

Speed (as in turnaround) is the key in this business. Offer to do some building for friends for free (if they buy the system). Get those friends to take pictures of your work and leave you a nice detailed review on your Google My Business location. Get at least 5 reviews. Have them call you and get directions to your location and click through to your website before leaving the review so Google knows it isn’t fake. This sounds silly but makes a difference for rankings.

Watch Zillow and Realtor.com and filter for homes that are recently sold in your target areas. New homeowners are exponentially more likely to want closet building services than a random joe off the street. Put on your polo and a pair of khakis and go to the homes that recently sold and knock on the door. Smile at them and shake their hand firmly. Tell them about yourself and that you’d love to offer them a free quote to help them get more storage space. If they don’t answer hang the flyer on the door and go to the next house.

Ignore getting a social media following. Not worth your time or money. Post videos of your work on youtube with local keywords instead. Experiment with social media marketing and PPC marketing by hiring a freelancer who specializes in this sort of thing.

Get creative with your marketing. You know where your customers are and who your perfect customer is. Go find them.

Housekeeping stuff. Register with the state as a sole proprietor and get liability insurance. Liability insurance is important. What if a child pulls on a drawer and the whole thing comes crashing down on him? Before you hire your first employee get workers compensation insurance and consider incorporating. Get accounting software like quickbooks and outsource your payroll to a service like Gusto or Paychex. Keep very detailed records of everything and read this book.Consider hiring a bookkeeper but make sure you understand most of it yourself as well. Become a licensed contractor in your state.

Get out and build some closets. Price high and make speed and service your competitive advantage. Answer the phone every time with friendly, eager professionalism and enthusiasm and you’ll be in the top 10%. Nurture your Google Business location. Its your most important asset. Reviews with photos are worth 10 regular reviews.

Play around with the price you charge. Price your time at what you estimate would be $50 per hour at first but make sure to charge by the job and not by the hour. You will get better at quoting over time and you will also get much faster at painting.

When you start to get some momentum set up a CRM like Jobber. It allows you to look way more professional than you are. Do all of your billing online. Attach photos of the jobs as they are completed.

You are not going to compete on price. You are going to compete on speed, professionalism, customer service and quality. They are going to like you as a person and want to do business with you. Learn more about this concept in my episode#13 “never compete on price again”.

When you get some momentum and some business rolling you’ll need a cargo van. Here is my used cargo van buying guide (i’ve purchased 15 or so used vans all under $7500 and they are amazing assets). Get a table saw instead of a miter. You’ll need to hire some help on the weekends you work. Pay well, $30+ per hour, and get competent people. Oversee them for a while until you trust them to build without you being there.

Avoid being a subcontractor. General contractors only care about one thing – price. You aren’t competing on price. You are adding service the the equation so your business only deals with the customers one on one.

Focus on what you do best and outsource everything else.

Form a personal relationship with your customers. Know the names of everyone in the family. Show up with a teddy bear for the little guy. Send a thank you note a few weeks after the job.

Eventually you will build a great little business. You will compete on speed and quality and not price. You can choose to stay small and charge a high price or try to grow and scale the business.

“On demand” is going to be your competitive advantage so you can charge a higher price. Make sure you can offer next day site visits or same day site visits. As soon as you get too busy to do that you need to raise your prices or hire another employee. Make sure that person is presentable and clean cut.

Now spend all of your time answering the phone, dealing with clients, and quoting jobs and managing the marketing.

When do you quit your job? That is all up to you. Lean out your life and your business so its less risky and you can get by on earning less. Stay lean as you grow and keep your expenses variable so you can change, pivot and close up shop if things go poorly.

Don’t like closet building? Check out this list and take your pick.

April 25, 2019 7:26 am

24 months of work and $100k down the drain – the ups and downs of entrepreneurship

Show notes from podcast episode 45.

I rarely dive into my my own business here but I have a story and a lesson worth sharing. I’m always learning and failing and getting back up and pressing onward.

I got some bad news this week. A self storage development project that I had been working on for 24 months is dead.

Let’s start from the beginning. My partner and I got involved in self storage with our first construction project.

We raised cash from outside investors for 25% and got a bank loan for our 75% ownership. We located the site, permitted the project, built the building from the ground up and operate that storage facility in Ithaca today.

The project has been a huge success. We spent $2.5MM to build it. We operate it extremely lean with remote management. We’re now about 60% occupied and we are cashflow positive and paying our investors back a healthy return on their initial investment. Its looking great from here on out.

We also had an offer on the table from a national player to purchase our facility for $4.2MM a few months after we opened the doors for operation. My partner and I could have taken about $600k each off the table but we declined the offer and decided to continue to lease up the facility and explore selling it down the road when its full and worth more or simply continue to operate it and enjoy the depreciation, appreciation and cash flows.

A few months after we opened the first facility for business in 2017 I went full time into self storage with the goal of getting another project in the works as soon as possible. My partner took over the service business with the help of a new management hire.

We picked a market we loved and got a parcel of land under purchase contract. The property needed a zoning variance to change from a business district to an industrial district. Even though self storage is a “business to consumer” retail-type business it is grouped in with other industrial uses like commercial warehousing and distribution centers.

We began spending money on civil engineering, permits, renderings, surveys and more. I attended 8 town hearings over 9 months. The local self storage owners showed up to the town meetings in force. They didn’t want the competition so they argued against the zoning variance. One competitor even hired an attorney to stand up and fight my project in front of the town. All in all we spent about $25k on the project before finally getting turned down by the town. We failed and moved on.

In March of 2018 we picked a different city and got a new parcel under purchase contract. This one was zoned correctly as an industrial site. It was wedged between a gas station and a highway. We began spending money on engineering, permits, renderings, surveys etc. I attended about 4 town meetings over 6 months before the town made it clear they didn’t like that use and decided to change the zoning altogether while I was in the process of trying to get approval. I had spent 6 months working on the deal and another $15k or so when they finally turned me down and changed the zoning. It was a heartbreaker. Back to square one again.

So in November of 2018 we got a third site under option in the same town as the previous site. It was zoned correctly, in a great high-traffic location and we negotiated a great price. In talking with the town the planning board members loved my use and were excited about my project. Finally some support!

We moved quickly and began the surveys and engineering. The site was near and old Indian burial ground next to the mohawk river so they required an archeological survey before we could do anything on the site. They wouldn’t even let us dig test holes to check soil types before the survey was completed. In the dead of winter with several feet of snow and the top 40 inches of soil frozen we couldn’t complete the survey so we had to wait until April.

So I had a decision to make. Hold up the entire project until April or take a chance on the archeological survey coming back clean and the test holes revealing what the soil maps told us they would reveal. I chose to get the project moving forward.

I spent this previous winter assembling my investment team, working with my local bank and getting the project use approved with the town. Everything went great. The investors were eager to join after the success at our first project. The bank was eager to lend because my partner and I had a few very good years and had some cash on hand. The town also loved our use.

So I began spending money on engineering and environmental surveys. We ordered the appraisal through the bank and I met with the board at my bank pushing towards loan approval. I engaged my civil engineer to compete the stormwater plan so we could get site plan approval with the town.

Business is weird because it all happens very slowly for a long time and it all comes together very quickly. Over the past two weeks things begin to finally come together.

On Monday April 15th 2019 I flew up, presented in front of the town board and public and we got site plan approval. There were several conditions of approval but they were all minor. We had to have an acceptable stormwater management plan and make a slight change to one of our driveways. This was a huge win because it was the step that killed our two previous deals.

Two days later on April 17th we finally received word that the archeological survey came back clean. No Indian remains or artifacts on site. Great news.

A day later on April 18th our loan was approved with the bank. Our appraisal had come back strong and the board approved us for the construction loan based on the budget I had built out. Great news and another huge hurdle cleared.

On April 19th all partners had reached agreement on the company operating agreement and it was distributed and signed by all of our partners. We scheduled the capital call for May 1st. Another huge hurdle cleared.

The last step was the test pits and soil tests. We had to make sure the ground was stable and our stormwater management plan could work on the site.

Stormwater management is a lot more complicated than people think. When you build a construction project you have to make the finished site plan drain and filter water at the same rates as before you did anything. This way if there is a big rain it won’t flood the local properties or roads. So if you put 100,000 square feet of pavement and buildings on a site that is a lot of water run off that previously was absorbed by green space.

The quality of the soil makes a big difference. Some soil, like sandy soil, drains and filters water very quickly and makes a stormwater plan a lot easier. Other soil like silt or organic matter doesn’t drain water very quickly at all. Either way a plan is usually feasible and can be made to work with stormwater structures like swells, retention ponds or underground water storage pipes in extreme cases.

So on Friday April 19th, with the archeological survey results in hand, we were finally able to dig our test holes on site.

What we found was a heartbreaker. Starting about 1 foot below grade and extending to about 5 foot below grade there was wood debris, bricks, concrete blocks, trash and more all in a rotting organic black sludge. It didn’t drain or filter water at all. What’s more is that this fill would make it virtually impossible to build proper building slabs that could hold up our storage buildings.

It turns out many years ago the property was used as a dumping ground for unwanted fill from all around town. Anytime anyone tore down a building the property owner would let them dump it on site and they would bury it. Anytime anyone had “fill” as extra dirt is called in the construction industry, they would bring it to this site and dump it. The owner thought this would increase the property value because the property got flatter and more consistent as they worked it around.

This fill would take hundreds of dump truck loads to remove and we’d have nowhere to take it. Plus it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to do this.

Our project is dead weeks before we were planning to break ground and begin construction. We are out the $30,000 in costs we accumulated preparing for construction with our surveys and engineering.

This is a major heartbreaker for me. I’ve spent 2 years trying to get a second project in the works and have failed 3 times. We’ve not only lost 2 years of my productivity but also nearly $100,000 in expenses associated with the three projects.

Yesterday I called everyone on my investment team and let them know that we would not be able to put their investment to use for another 6-8 months at the earliest. They were disappointed and a few told me they wouldn’t be able to commit to that new timeline.

I learned an important lesson on this project. Get the deal breakers out of the way as soon as possible. Spend as little money and time as possible working to get these deal breakers out of the way.

With construction there are a lot of deal breakers and not all of them are possible to get out of the way early. We couldn’t dig in the winter for example. The appraisal could have came back low and we could have been declined on the loan amount. It could have been an indian campsite and artifacts could have been uncovered. The town could have changed the zoning. A neighbor could have showed up and voiced his or her displeasure until the town gave in. A competitor could have hired a high powered attorney to fight our project. The list goes on.

It’s the cost of doing business. There are ups and downs in business. You have to take risks in the form of time and money to make great (and profitable) things happen. I’m not as upset about the $100k. The next successful project will make that back 10 or 20 times over. Self storage projects are so profitable because they are so darn hard to get permitted and get built. They take 4 years from concept to cashflow. It’s a long long game that most people aren’t willing to play.

The time is what really breaks my heart. I’ve spent 2 full years working to get a project approved and now I have absolutely nothing to show for it. My partner is sacrificing in a big way by managing our big and stressful service business on his own so I can pursue these opportunities for us. I feel like I let him down.

So what can I take away from this?

Number one I think we are going to get a few projects in the pipeline from here on out. Most developers do this. They have 6 projects in the pipeline because they know that 3 of the deals will die and the other 3 will be delayed and take twice as long as scheduled.

But what happens if all three go quickly and work out? We’ll need some more involved investors or to take on a larger partner. We’ve explored those routes and we think its time to get more serious. We can’t risk wasting another 8 months on a project that doesn’t come to fruition.

Ray Dalio has an analogy in his book “Principles of life and work” that is applicable here.

“Imagine that in order to have a great life you have to cross a dangerous jungle. You can stay safe where you are and have an ordinary life, or you can risk crossing the jungle to have a terrific life. How would you approach that choice?” – Ray Dalio

He talks about the lizard brain and that its hard wired for us to fear uncomfortable and dangerous situations in order to keep us alive and safe.

But what is really the danger? What are we risking?

Not death. Not hunger. Not social rejection or humiliation. We have safety nets here.

We’re risking time and money. We can always make the money back and if we do it right the costs of failing aren’t going to cripple us.

The worst case scenario just happened for the third time in a row and where do I sit? My family still gets fed. I still get to come home to this guy. I can still make my mortgage payment. I’m still safe from physical danger. I can’t let my emotions get the best of me and make radical decisions right now. I have to trust the process and keep a level head.

It’s all part of entrepreneurship. Onward and upward!

Want more? Subscribe here to get short, concise emails from me once a week to help you build a better business. I also share a business idea like this each week to get you fired up and get your gears turning.

April 24, 2019 5:44 am

The ways early success can set you up for future failure

Show notes from Sweaty Startup podcast episode 43.

  • Your ego begins to cloud your judgement

Ego is a touchy balancing act. Early on the ego is what leads to success. It’s what suppresses the fear of failure and the anxiety that goes along with a new business. It’s what allows someone to be comfortable doing something that only .01% of people do successfully.

Nothing is clear cut in entrepreneurship. There is no best practice guaranteed to produce results. Its fluid and it changes often. Every situation is different and the decision that turned out to be great a few weeks ago could no longer work.

Changing your mind quickly is a key attribute of a successful entrepreneur. You are never pot committed. You are always ready to accept defeat and change the plan. The ego challenges this. The ego clouds your sense of perception and can drive you deep into a dark dark place and bring everything crashing down.

Instead of looking at the markets with a humble open mind you now have on a pair of rose colored glasses. You get overconfident. You think it’s easy. You trust your gut a lot more than you should.

Being “right” when arguing with someone who disagrees with you becomes more important than uncovering truth and facts with logic.

  • You forget that luck plays a big part in business.

You win some and you lose some. Being at the right place at the right time is a lot more important than being an exceptional person. Some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of all time are just your average people who worked smart and caught some big breaks and had the brains to recognize opportunities. Skill can’t always save a failing business. If the market doesn’t want what you are offering its time to cut your losses and move on.

  • Unrealistic timelines

After early success its easy to forget that it took a long time to build what worked for you the first time. You forget that its a long process and the dip is real. Business isn’t always fun and pushing through the slow unexcited time is not easy.

So you set unrealistic timelines and get discouraged when things take time to develop.

  • A big failure can ruin a lot of small successes

After early success you get comfortable with risk. Instead of starting local and small you decide to start national and big. So you double down on the next venture to make it all happen even faster and make even more money. What could go wrong?

  • You surround yourself with “yes” men

It’s natural for people to seek information that supports their opinion. Thats why the democrats watch CNN and the republicans watch Fox. Business is no different. After an early success its often easy to get caught up hiring a bunch of “yes” people into your inner circle.

Along those same lines people are less likely to challenge you when you have a track record of success. You are less likely to ask for help or advice as well. You start talking more and listening a whole lot less.

  • You don’t take the time to learn the service the second time through

Your first business you started at the bottom and learned the service. You learned what your customers wanted. You learned the methods that worked best. You adjusted and refined everything.

The second time through you think you have it all figured out and you can hire employees right off the bat. You already know what the customers want. You already know the most efficient way to do something. No need to spend time actually learning it right?

  • Lifestyle creep

A few years in a row earning a few hundred thousand dollars a year can lead to some bad habits. You lose your scrappy frugal attitude and you start to indulge a bit in the finer things. You buy a nice car. You buy a big house. You start frequenting the best restaurants and maybe even join the expensive golf club in town.

The lean lifestyle that led to a healthy and adjustable business is now gone. You need to be earning $15k a month just to pay your bills. If things get hard you are stuck with all that overhead and it can all be gone in a heartbeat.

  • More distractions arise in the form of “opportunities”

You got to where you are today by saying yes to basically everything. Any opportunity that came a knocking you jumped on it full speed ahead.

After some success opportunities start to come at you out of nowhere. More people reach out to you with ideas. With a little money you are suddenly in the market for several different businesses or assets that may be for sale. You are suddenly committed to several meetings a week. You are being pulled in thousands of directions. Your life becomes hectic and stressful.

It’s easy to forget that time is your most valuable asset and the only thing you’ll never get back.

  • Money becomes the driving factor and the measuring stick

Great entrepreneurs recognize value and understand how to measure it, grow it and eventually exchange it for money. Thinking about things in terms of value and not money is a great way to stay grounded and keep working towards long term goals. When money arrives its incredibly hard to maintain this mindset.

  • Moochers appear

All of the sudden you are expected to get the tab when you go out for drinks with friends. Then people start calling you to borrow money. Then before you know it you have 11 netflix accounts being charged to your credit card. You definitely find out who your true friends are.

  • You forget how much suffering is out there

It’s easy to forget how bad a lot of people in this world have it. The poorest of the poor in America have it 10x better than the middle class in most 3rd world countries. Being able to feed your family is far from a stress on your list but thats not the case for a lot of people. It’s easy to get blinded into thinking anyone can succeed in this world and write off those in tough positions as lazy or unworthy people.

  • What am I here for again?

After a big success and an emotional victory it becomes harder and harder to quench the desire for that next big high. You’ve made the money and accomplished your goals. What now? What is my purpose now?

You see rock stars and famous people struggle with depression and addiction. It’s no different for entrepreneurs coming down from that first big success.

Want more? Subscribe here to get short, concise emails from me once a week to help you build a better business. I also share a business idea like this each week to get you fired up and get your gears turning.

April 16, 2019 6:40 am

How to overcome analysis paralysis (episode 42)

Show notes from The Sweaty Startup podcast episode 42.

Analysis paralysis is the act of over-analyzing and over-researching a potential business venture to the point of taking no action at all for long periods of time.

Ready… Aim. Aim. Aim. Aim. Aim.

Never firing a shot.

I would say this (along with the fear of failure) is the main reason many otherwise brilliant and high-potential people never end up starting a business and building the life they want.

Diving in and committing to one business and pushing onward can be hard for a number of reasons:

  1. The opportunities are endless. The number of businesses you could potentially start, even in a small town with a limited skillset, ranges in the hundreds.
  2. The resources for analysis are endless. The internet is amazing but it can be the cause for information overload. You can find and read amazing content on any question you could ever consider asking. I find myself addicted to google. I get curious about something and start searching. The next thing I know 30 minutes is gone and I’m learning about ancient chinese martial arts. Not only the the internet but podcasts (like this one), self help books and online courses.
  3. The number of markets and companies out there to study are endless. You can always find more competitors in other cities to study and research.
  4. There is no perfect opportunity. There will always be hair. It’s hard starting something. You want it to be hard or everyone would be doing it.
  5. After the initial high of getting started when everything is fun and you are learning quickly there is a long slow moving period where things happen slowly. It takes a while to get momentum. It takes a while to get your website on the first page of google. It takes a while to get word of mouth churning. You’ll be out there sweating, toiling away laboring for a year or even longer in the early days.
  6. Its uncomfortable being different. You might be seeking validation from the wrong people. Take advice from everyone but only apply what resonates with you and aligns with your mission and your goals. Starting a business is doing exactly the opposite of what 99.9% of people do.

So how can we combat analysis paralysis and just make something happen?

Understand that most of the resources are broadly applicable and if you don’t have a project to apply them to they are nearly worthless and will be forgotten in a few days. Simply put you can listen to podcasts about how to ski, read reddit articles like this about how to ski, read blogs about how to ski and if you don’t get out there and actually ski you will never learn how to ski. Business is the same.

You must understand that time (not money) is your most valuable asset. Every day (beyond a reasonable amount) you waste doing research should be viewed as lost earning potential.

We’re not re-inventing the wheel here. A strong healthy competitor is a good sign. That means the market is there. The customers are there. We know it can work. Don’t let a strong competitor scare you off if you believe the market is large and growing every day.

Just because there is a good strong competitor doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a piece of the pie and build a successful business. If the market is large and growing every day, like most services, you might not need to steal a single customer from that strong competitor. You might not even need to get all the new customers. You might just need to get a few of the many at first to get some momentum.

Consider setting up a few businesses. It takes just a few days of focused work to get a Google My Business location, logo, website and the essential set of the tools set up for customers to find you. You don’t have to learn it yet. You don’t have to buy the equipment yet. You don’t have to form an LLC and get insurance yet. I did this with lawn care, painting and athletic training along the same time frame I was building my first successful business. The lawn care website stuck and now my brother is operating a successful business there.

Understand that value and money aren’t always equal and successful entrepreneurs are really good at understanding value. They are good at seeing beyond the bank account when devoting energy and resources towards building something that will be worth something in the future. If you are focused on money in the near term you’ll get discouraged and give up quickly.

Fight the urge to be “busy” doing small menial tasks and instead work on the things that are important but not urgent to propel your business forward as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about the fluff initially. Don’t spend weeks writing a business plan. Don’t make your training videos before you have customers. Get the big stuff done so you can get to market as quick as possible with a simplified version of your service.

Its low risk if you do it the right way. We’re talking $500 or less to get the tools to let customers find you. Time and opportunity cost is the real factor here. Buy things used. Keep your expenses variable.

Work quickly and efficiently. For a low skilled and low investment business you can do a sufficient market analysis in a day or two. Don’t drag on and on working on things that you can easily learn on the fly while out servicing customers. Everything takes time to develop so its critical you get the ball rolling as soon as you can.

Continue to consume material but spend time applying it. The real value from self help material like this comes from spending time thinking about how to apply it to your own experiences. This is general stuff for a reason. Its meant for you to grasp the overall concepts and pass on the stuff that doesn’t apply and get serious about the stuff that does.

When you launch be sure to set goals. Get serious about your marketing so you have a chance to succeed but if it isn’t working move on just as quickly as you started.

If it is working get serious about buckling down and working on something that is going to take time to develop. It won’t be fun all the time. You won’t get paid right away. Its a 3-5 year plan. Power through the dip until you reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Look at each venture as taking a shot. Ready. Aim. Fire.

A shot is only a few days work and a few bucks for hosting. Why wouldn’t you take a lot of shots?

I can see spending more time aiming in the tech world when you are investing years and years or in the product world where you are investing thousands of dollars. But this is low risk stuff we’re talking about here.

Ready. Aim. Fire. Aim. Fire. Aim. Fire. Aim. Fire.

You’ll hit a target that way and the momentum will get behind you.

April 12, 2019 6:54 am

Overcoming anxiety and the fear of failure (episode 30)

We all know that feeling of failure. That feeling of inadequacy. The feeling of rejection. The feeling of embarrassment. The anxiety that comes along with entrepreneurship and generally anything that is worth doing in life.

Mine was a basketball game in southern Indiana. Basketball is intense in southern indiana. I was a sophomore and I was a role player on the varsity team. I was our second leading scorer but I think it was only 8 or 10 points per game. We had a star player who ended up getting a full ride D1 scholarship at Indiana state. We passed the ball to him. He averaged 25 points per game. Because he was on our team and just because of the general culture in Indiana our games were popular. On friday and saturday nights people went to local basketball games. Thats just what they did for fun. It was common for 2-3 thousand people to show up and pack a small gymnasium and the atmospheres were electric. Picture the movie hoosiers.

Its the biggest game of the year. Against our rivals on the other side of the county. On their court so we were away. Its extra crazy. There were full student sections standing and screaming the entire game. It was standing room only in the gymnasium.

Star player gets in foul trouble before half time. The first time he got taken out of the game all season. All of us young kids were just looking at each other. I think we were winning the game by a few points when he went out.

About two minutes to go in the half. One trip down the court I get passed the ball in the corner and shoot a three. Airball. The entire crowd starts chanting Airball, Airball, airball. I start to get a little nervous now. The other team comes down and drills a three pointer. The crowd goes nuts. Next time down the ball gets passed around a few times and ends up in my hands again. I drive to the middle leave my feet for a shot and realize its going to get blocked and make a bad pass. The ball gets picked off and the other team goes down and gets a fast break dunk.

Dunks aren’t that common in high school basketball so now the crowd is really going nuts. Our coach calls a time out. We try to regroup.

We go down the floor the next time and I end up driving to the basket and taking a contested layup that wasn’t even close. The other team was turning up the defensive intensity knowing we weren’t comfortable and weren’t going to be able to get aggressive. The other team goes down and scores again.

With just a few seconds before halftime I once again get thrown the ball and I drive the sideline and go up for a layup. A defender got a great position and took a charge. Foul on me. Another turnover. Clock expires and its halftime. We’re now down by 10 points.

As we walk off the court with our heads down the people there in our cheering section begin to boo our team. Our own fans begin to boo me. A few fans stood up and started pointing and yelling at me.

We go to the locker room and sit there in silence. After a minute or two, which seemed like an eternity, our coach storms in with a red face and a clipboard. He walks right up to where I’m sitting and points at me. He screams “you are not our best player! You will never be our best player! Stop trying to be our best player!” Then he slammed down his clipboard and walked out. That was the extent of our halftime talk.

I will never ever forget those 10 minutes of my life. That voice is deeply ingrained in my mind and I’ll never forget the look in my coach’s eye. All this as a 16 year old kid just trying to figure out life and where I fit in.

That experience pales in comparison to what some people deal with.

Its ingrained in our mind from a traumatic experience as a kid. A cruel bully. Maybe its a parent who just didn’t build us up and instead tore us down and criticised our every move. Maybe an abusive girlfriend or boyfriend. A sports moment or just the insane sport environment in general growing up where every action we take is measured and failure is obvious.

It still plagues us today. That inadequacy. That voice inside our head that is telling us that we just don’t have what it takes to be successful. That we’ll never be good enough. That we just don’t measure up. Other people can do it. Other people can win but I never will.

This isn’t just men. Not just women. It is extremely common for all human beings.

Every single one of us, at times, have that anxiety that arrives and that self doubt that arrives when we are in an uncomfortable or unpredictable situation. That heightened sense of self criticism. That voice telling us that we just aren’t quite good enough. That reluctance to trust ourselves and instead trust what that one bully or that one coach told us when we were 12. Trust that we just aren’t good enough and we can’t do this. The anxiety is crippling.

This is incredibly prevalent in our personal relationships. Maybe somebody is doing something amazing but we are afraid to tell them that because of our own insecurities and our own inadequacies and thus our own jealousy. Maybe our own insecurities lead to trust issues and kill most relationships before they get serious.

Maybe its the inclination in our lives to conform to what other people are doing. In middle school we call that peer pressure. That goes away when we get older right? Wrong. Now its called keeping up with the Joneses. Thats called getting an expensive college degree so we can afford the car payment on a $60k Chevy Tahoe and the payments on a $500k house in the swanky part of town and the credit card payments on the bills we rack up while dining with our friends at the expensive restaurants three times a week.

Maybe that fear of rejection cripples us and keeps us playing the safe game. Maybe our #1 goal in life is to make sure those feelings of failure and inadequacy never show their faces again. Those feelings of being the target of boos from a crowd and a screaming coach never happens again.

There is nowhere in life this is more prevalent than when it comes to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is just like that basketball game. The stakes are high. Failure is obvious when it happens. Its uncomfortable. Its risky. Your friends are going to make jokes and talk down to you when you buy that first $1500 cargo van on craigslist. They sure did to me.

That failure is scary.

Maybe it affects you in the opposite way and forces you to overcompensate. The anxiety forces you to try the long shot venture capital backed company. To try to be the next steve jobs. To try to be the next elon musk. To try to change the world.

Maybe you just want to prove to everyone that you are indeed spectacular and they were all wrong. That your coach was wrong. Your dad was wrong.

In either case there is a fear that you will lose your status. There is a fear of failure. There is a fear of what other people will think of you.

So how do we manage this fear of insecurity and failure and rejection? How do we surpress those negative emotions so we can achieve our goals and find happiness in life? It starts with answering one simple question.

Who am I seeking approval from?

I have news for you. The only person you need approval from is yourself. You are the person that controls your emotions. You are the person that determines if you are happy or not. You are the leader of your own life.

The sooner you stop chasing stamps of approval from other people you will be much much better off and happier. Instead of letting the joneses set your standards you need to feel good about yourself its time to set your own.

How do you want to live? What 20% of activities do you do in life that bring you 80% of your joy? What moral code do you want to live by? What makes you happy.

What about other people? What about my husband or wife? What about my best friends? What about my family members?

These people love you and care about you because of who you are. Because of your moral compass. Because of what drives you. Because of what makes you happy.

So if you approve of yourself and you are happy and confident in your own skin these people will automatically love you and stick beside you. You will get their approval as a byproduct of only needing your own approval.

Let me repeat that. You will get the approval of the people closest to you as a byproduct of only needing approval from yourself.

Set your own standards of success and work towards them. If you can train yourself to realize that other people’s opinions don’t matter failure really isn’t that bad.


A funny thing about that basketball game. The second half I obviously played horribly. I was rattled. I cried on the bus ride home from the game. I cried later that night at the kitchen table as my father and I talked over the game. Luckily he worked hard to build me up. He focused on the positives. The next night I had the best game of the season. I scored 26 points including a steal and a layup as time expired to win the game. The same fans who bood me the night before cheered me on and celebrated the win the very next night.

Now I have even more news for you.

Getting uncomfortable and facing uncertainty is fun.

What is the worst that could possibly happen if you take a leap and start a business? I’m serious. Think about it and answer this. If you’re in America you surely won’t starve to death. In most places in the world you won’t miss a meal. If you do it right and in a low risk way you might lose a little bit of time and money. Its not so bad. Its probably not even as bad as getting yelled at in front of your peers by your high school basketball coach.

Its the possible failure that makes the victory so sweet.

Building something is fun. Entrepreneurship is so amazingly fun because you never know what is around the corner. You never know what is on the horizon. You never know if the phone is going to ring and an employee is going to let you know he just rear ended a mercedes benz on the highway or ripped the top off the company box truck. I’ve gotten both of those calls.

I’ve also gotten the call from a school administrator letting us know that we won the contract to be the preferred provider at a big ten university. I’ve seen the email inbox go nuts with new customer signups beyond our wildest dreams. I’ve had a customer send a thank you card to my house after she packed her passport in her storage squad box and didn’t realize it until it was 3AM and she woke up to catch her 7am flight to China. We answered the call at 3am, dug through the box, and delivered the passport to Boston Logan just in time for her  student to catch their flight back to china.

So what drives you?

Is it the money? You might think its the money and the things you can buy with money but I bet it isn’t. The scientific data on happiness would disagree with you as well. How much money do you need? Really how much money do you need in order to spend your time doing what you enjoy most? Get your number. Write it down. I bet its a lot smaller than you think. Most of the 40 somethings grinding 60 hours a week have already surpassed the money mark long ago but they keep working. Why? This leads me to the next one.

Is it the status? Maybe. That drives a lot of people. But those people are rarely happy. There will always be something else someone has that you don’t have. There will always be that next level of wealth. There will always be someone who has more than you do. Someone who went on a more expensive vacation than you did and put the photos on facebook for you to scroll through. If you chase status you’ll spend your life chasing something that is impossible to fully quantify.

Is it time? Do you want to get your time back so you can spend it with people who mean the most to you? Do you want to watch your kids grow up? Do you want to be at their little league games? Do you want to go on Daddy daughter dates once a week with your amazing 5 year old? Most children don’t get to ever experience timelessness with their dads. Will your children?

The first step is to find out what drives you. Build out your own sets of standards and your own goals. Your own stamp of approval.

I’m going to send you with a challenge. Tomorrow morning wake up an hour earlier than normal. Make a cup of coffee and have a snack. Don’t touch your phone or computer. No input. Go to a quiet place in your house and think. Get a pad and a pen and write.

What do you want your day to look like 5 years from now? What do you spend your time doing? How much money do you need?

Don’t let your anxiety and insecurities hold you back. Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back. Don’t let standards put on you by society keep you from making decisions that align with your own personal goals. Get comfortable with and embrace the uncomfortable. Buck the 9-5. Embrace the possibility of failure. Get out and build the life you want.

April 9, 2019 9:37 am

Successful people aren’t busy (episode 41)

Successful business owners are assumed to be busy. They hear “I know you are very very busy” all the time.

Successful people aren’t busy.

It’s great that people respect their time but successful people are not busy. They just say no a lot. They prioritize what they spend their time doing. They don’t do things that don’t bring them closer to their goals. They aren’t reactionary. They are always on offense.

Successful people understand that time is the #1 asset in life. It’s way more valuable than money or property. It’s the only thing they will never get back.

The most successful business owners are good at deciding how to spend their money and they are even better at deciding how to spend their time.

Are you on offense or defense in this game of life?

The defensive minded person is reactionary. Someone else has the ball and they are making the decisions. Someone else determines if it is a pass play or a run play. Something outside of my control dictates my actions, my schedule and my life.

The defensive minded person simply waits for things to happen and then tries their best to make the most of the situation. They are exhausted. Always busy but never getting much of anything important done. Pulled in a thousand directions.

Defensive people get a pass because they were going non-stop all week. They were stressed out moving quickly from one fire to another fire. Spending time on the important and the urgent stuff. Never taking a break to have some personal time. Always exhausted.

No points for playing defense.

Points for working on the hard stuff. Points for saying no. Points for taking control of your time.

No points for playing defense.

Playing defense is a safe place. Being busy is easy. Most people find security in being told what to do. No hard decisions. No forward thinking. Just live in the moment and react to what is in front of you.

Play offense instead.

Work on the stuff that matters. The important stuff that isn’t yet urgent. Solve problems way before they become raging forest fires. Make the one decisions that cuts out 100 future decisions. Say no to people or things who try to dictate your life and put you in a reactionary state. Spend some time each day forward thinking and planning.

Thats how you play offense.

Lets go a little deeper and give you something actionable. Next time you have a decision in front of you realize there are only two possible answers:

HELL YES or no.

There is no maybe. There is no yes. There is no okay. There is no I guess. You are either eager and excited to do it because it’s important or the answer is no.

I get it. We all get ahead in life, especially early in our careers, by saying yes to everything. Yes I’ll take on that project. Yes I’ll spend some time on that possible opportunity. Yes I’ll join that club. I’ll do it. Yes yes yes.

But as we all know this spirals out of control. Before we know it we are playing defense. Events every night of the week. Activities all weekend every weekend. Obligations at work that aren’t important to us and our advancement but somebody has to do them. Putting out fires because we ignore the small problems until they become big.

Step one is to lay out your 5 year plan.

When you have this plan in place you will begin to use it as a reference and framework for every decision you make in life.

When a decision presents itself ask the following question:

Will saying yes to this help me take a step closer to achieving my career or relationship goals?

If the answer is “HELL YES” then you say yes and you do the thing.

If the answer is no you politely decline the invitation. If the answer is maybe you politely decline the invitation. If its a guilty or emotional yes you politely decline the invitation. If there is pressure to make a quick decision the answer is no.

NOTE: I’m not asking you to be selfish. I’m not asking you not to help others. Helping other people and developing meaningful relationships should be a part of achieving your goals. But don’t let others take advantage of you. Don’t let other people disrespect your time. Saying no more often will actually allow you to do WAY MORE important work helping others and making a difference. Be selective with your time here.

Make time every week to work on things that will free up time in the future. Spend an hour making a decision now that will save you an hour a week for the next year. Make time for training the new employee so that new employee can save you 2 hours a day every day indefinitely.

Its all about shifting from spending your time on things out of your control to spending time on things in your control. To calling the shots when it comes to your own actions. From playing defense to playing offense.

The most successful business owners are good at deciding how to spend their money and they are even better at deciding how to spend their time.

A personal note:

Many people think I am very busy. I manage a lot at work. I race my bicycle and spend hours each week training. I release two podcast episodes a week and write a few thousand words a day. I brew beer and fish. I play guitar along with countless other hobbies. I read a lot. I spend a lot time with my family and socializing with my close friends.

I’m not busy. If a close friend comes to town I can clear several days with absolutely no stress. I can make time for a new opportunity in a heart beat. I can get obsessed with a new hobby for a few days or weeks without falling behind in any way.

I say no a lot. I don’t watch TV or movies (unless it coincides with quality time with family/close friends). I don’t schedule meetings. I say no to my family and friends when it comes to activities that I don’t believe are in the 80/20. I respectfully voice my frustrations when I feel someone isn’t respecting my time.

I focus on working on what I’m best at so I can be efficient and get a lot done in a short amount of time. I don’t nitpick and reread and reread. I’m not a perfectionist. I work really hard on my communication skills so I can successfully delegate and lead others.

I try to spend my time playing offense.

Are you on offense or defense in this game of life?

The defensive minded person is reactionary. Someone else has the ball and they are making the decisions. Someone else determines if it is a pass play or a run play. Something outside of my control dictates my actions, my schedule and my life.

The defensive minded person simply waits for things to happen and then tries their best to make the most of the situation. They are exhausted. Always busy but never getting much of anything important done. Pulled in a thousand directions.

Defensive people get a pass because they were going non-stop all week. They were stressed out moving quickly from one fire to another fire. Spending time on the important and the urgent stuff. Never taking a break to have some personal time. Always exhausted.

No points for playing defense.

Points for working on the hard stuff. Points for saying no. Points for taking control of your time.

No points for playing defense.

Playing defense is a safe place. Being busy is easy. Most people find security in being told what to do. No hard decisions. No forward thinking. Just live in the moment and react to what is in front of you.

Play offense instead.

Work on the stuff that matters. The important stuff that isn’t yet urgent. Solve problems way before they become raging forest fires. Make the one decisions that cuts out 100 future decisions. Say no to people or things who try to dictate your life and put you in a reactionary state. Spend some time each day forward thinking and planning.

Thats how you play offense.

Lets go a little deeper and give you something actionable. Next time you have a decision in front of you realize there are only two possible answers:

HELL YES or no.

There is no maybe. There is no yes. There is no okay. There is no I guess. You are either eager and excited to do it because it’s important or the answer is no.

I get it. We all get ahead in life, especially early in our careers, by saying yes to everything. Yes I’ll take on that project. Yes I’ll spend some time on that possible opportunity. Yes I’ll join that club. I’ll do it. Yes yes yes.

But as we all know this spirals out of control. Before we know it we are playing defense. Events every night of the week. Activities all weekend every weekend. Obligations at work that aren’t important to us and our advancement but somebody has to do them. Putting out fires because we ignore the small problems until they become big.

Step one is to lay out your 5 year plan.

When you have this plan in place you will begin to use it as a reference and framework for every decision you make in life.

When a decision presents itself ask the following question:

Will saying yes to this help me take a step closer to achieving my career or relationship goals?

If the answer is “HELL YES” then you say yes and you do the thing.

If the answer is no you politely decline the invitation. If the answer is maybe you politely decline the invitation. If its a guilty or emotional yes you politely decline the invitation. If there is pressure to make a quick decision the answer is no.

NOTE: I’m not asking you to be selfish. I’m not asking you not to help others. Helping other people and developing meaningful relationships should be a part of achieving your goals. But don’t let others take advantage of you. Don’t let other people disrespect your time. Saying no more often will actually allow you to do WAY MORE important work helping others and making a difference. Be selective with your time here.

Make time every week to work on things that will free up time in the future. Spend an hour making a decision now that will save you an hour a week for the next year. Make time for training the new employee so that new employee can save you 2 hours a day every day indefinitely.

Its all about shifting from spending your time on things out of your control to spending time on things in your control. To calling the shots when it comes to your own actions. From playing defense to playing offense.

The most successful business owners are good at deciding how to spend their money and they are even better at deciding how to spend their time.

A personal note:

Many people think I am very busy. I manage a lot at work. I race my bicycle and spend hours each week training. I release two podcast episodes a week and write a few thousand words a day. I brew beer and fish. I play guitar along with countless other hobbies. I read a lot. I spend a lot time with my family and socializing with my close friends.

I’m not busy. If a close friend comes to town I can clear several days with absolutely no stress. I can make time for a new opportunity in a heart beat. I can get obsessed with a new hobby for a few days or weeks without falling behind in any way.

I say no a lot. I don’t watch TV or movies (unless it coincides with quality time with family/close friends). I don’t schedule meetings. I say no to my family and friends when it comes to activities that I don’t believe are in the 80/20. I respectfully voice my frustrations when I feel someone isn’t respecting my time.

I focus on working on what I’m best at so I can be efficient and get a lot done in a short amount of time. I don’t nitpick and reread and reread. I’m not a perfectionist. I work really hard on my communication skills so I can successfully delegate and lead others.

I try to spend my time playing offense.

April 5, 2019 6:47 am

Silent partner in a roofing business?

I live in Seattle. My girlfriend’s brother has a lot of expertise in the roofing industry and wants to start a business with me. Heres the catch – he doesn’t have citizenship so he would need me to form the business, get insurance, run the administrative side of things, and set it all up. I have a full time job so I’m looking to do this on the side. He wants to get 80% of the profits since he is doing the work and give me 20% for doing the setup.

Oh man this is Juicy. I love the roofing business.

Lets start with my concerns:

A couple things you should know – roofing has the highest workers compensation rate of any industry in America. Its the only one higher than moving and storage. Its an extremely dangerous job. People die on the job. You’ll pay upwards of 40% on top of payroll in the form of workers compensation. So if you pay guys $20/hr to do the work you’ll pay an additional $8 per hour in workers compensation.

Don’t do a single job without liability and workers compensation insurance. Make sure to form an LLC for liability purposes.

You need to talk to a lawyer about the concerns sharing profits and ownership with someone who doesn’t have a social security number. I don’t know if its possible for them to be a part owner. I’m assuming they aren’t here legally or they would have a work visa and a temporary social? This is all research you need to do.

A hands off role with 20% of profits doesn’t sound worth the risk to me. You need to either be involved and own the business outright and set up a profit sharing plan with him or you need to not do it.

You are basically partnering so sit down and have the hard talks with him. You can set up performance hurdles to make it fair. If no profit he doesn’t get paid. If the business starts to get profitable he is paid a fair salary for his work (based on revenue and commission). Everything above and beyond that salary you get until your initial investment is recouped. After that you split the profit based on value added.

There is only so much value in doing the roofing. You could get the best roofer in the world for $75k a year. The real value is in building the processes and bringing in the business. If he is a competent business manager and can build out training systems thats a lot of value. If you are doing that and he is just on the roof sweating and thats his glass ceiling then that should be considered when sharing profits.

If I were you I would want to be very involved on the quoting and selling side of things and take more of the profit. An 80/20 split is in no way worth your time, effort or risk. Sit down and have the hard conversations with him and how you see it happening.

Lets talk about what I would do if you did decide to move forward:

You aren’t going to compete on price. Your competitive advantage is going to be a quick turnaround, ultra responsive customer serviceeager professionalism and quality work. If you are looking for the cheapest, we are not your company. If you are looking for great value and a quick timeline, we are your company.

You do not want to be a subcontractor. General Contractors only care about one thing – money. They will beat you up on price. Plus, acting as a sub does not put to use any of your competitive advantages. Your great website, your accessibility, your responsiveness, your professionalism, your customer service. You’re competing with the guys who don’t do any of that and its a race to the bottom. Don’t get involved there. Work directly with home and business owners who need a new roof.

Find your target customer. Homeowners? Business owners? Storm victims? Go and get in front of them with marketing. Find the homes in the high end neighborhood that are 20 years old and you know need a new roof.

Go and do some networking. Anybody who could potentially recommend your business you need to stop and see. Realtors. Home lenders. Insurance agents. These three could be huge. Go into their business and talk to them and drop off a card. Make friends with them. Try to refer them some business from your network and let them know you plan to do that. Get their cards and send them follow up emails. If you had great conversation with them send them a box of chocolates and a thank you card for referring business.

Consider working a niche. Maybe get really really good at working with insurance companies after storms. You can get customers a free roof if they sustain damage. That’s a good play and a skill most roofers aren’t interested in learning because it takes work.

Start a lean business and buy your equipment used so you can sell later if necessary without eating a ton of depreciation. Keep your expenses variable.

Do a market analysis and study competitors. Look for the best roofing company in the USA and model your business after them. Call them and play a customer. Learn how they charge and how everything works.

Get serious about content marketing and SEO. Nurture your google my business location. Build a great website full of amazing content. All the questions someone would ask when they are putting on their own roof, dealing with insurance, or whatever. Answer all those questions!

Make sure the employees are professionally dressed and have good manners when on the job. No smoking on the job. No using customers bathrooms. No untrimmed beards or showing tattoos. A collared shirt.

Quote high. Be okay losing most of the jobs you quote. Convert fewer jobs but make more profit on each. Make sure to do a phenomenal job and you’ll do great.

April 4, 2019 6:18 am

Small business content marketing (episode 37)

Show notes from podcast episode 37.

What is content marketing?

The practice of creating articles and videos designed to be helpful and of genuine interest to your target customer without explicitly promoting your services or products.

This is a case in point example of my favorite business principle of all time – adding value first. You are giving away value without expectation.

We talk a lot about doing the work that is important but not urgent. The hard work that other companies aren’t doing. The stuff that is important to grow and scale your small business. Content marketing is one of those things.

The good news is that content marketing is mainly implemented by hyper competitive online businesses and it is still virtually unheard of by all but a select few small businesses. If you do this you will be at a huge advantage when it comes to online presence and search engine optimization at a local level.

Most businesses write content like college kids network. Selfishly. They walk around with their hand out. Buy from me! Help me! Me me me me me!

I have news for you. The customers don’t care about you! They are selfish!

Think about the customer and their goals? What if a customer wants to understand a service before they buy it? What if a customer wants to make sure the service provider knows their stuff and is genuinely an authority that can be trusted with such an important job?

But what about the learners? What about the people who don’t want to buy yet and they are just researching and trying to learn something and figure out who they can trust? The people who will be customers a week from now or a month from now but aren’t yet sure who to pick?

These are the customers we’re targeting and this is how we can stand out with great content marketing for our small businesses.

A content marketing campaign is beneficial in two ways:

  1. Gain trust with your target customers and make them more likely to choose you among the crowd of pushy sales people
  2. Help you rank for target keywords. Get your company website on the first page of Google

Gaining trust – content marketing is a beautiful non-pushy sales strategy. Its an opportunity for you to prove to add value first for a potential customer in the form of knowledge. It proves to them that you know your stuff and that you are an authority that can be trusted and hired with confidence.

Google is getting smarter. It’s not just about keyword repetition, bolded headlines, links, alternate photo text, the quantity of reviews on your Google Location, etc. It’s about engagement and bounce rate. What does that mean? A bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page. Google measures this.

Say you google something and you’re looking for an answer to a problem you are having. You click on the first link but its a crappy website and isn’t going to help you but instead is just trying to sell you something. You back out after about 5 seconds and click on the second link. This one is helpful and you spend 5 minutes reading and browsing the site.

Google will recognize this and eventually put that second link you clicked ahead of the first. Google’s goal as a search engine is to put the most helpful websites at the top of search results. That’s what makes it a good search engine. It’s beginning to punish the selfish content writers who are only interested in selling something and reward the content writers who are trying to help viewers solve problems and find the information they are looking for.

The million dollar question – how do we create valuable, relevant compelling content on a consistent basis to our targeted audience to see some profitable action?

Step 1: Find the keywords your potential customers are using to look for businesses like yours:

Do people in your town search power washing, pressure washing or driveway cleaning most? Do they search lawn care, grass cutting or yard mowing most? What words do they use when they type? We don’t know so we need to do some research to find out.

Ahrefs.com is one great resource. Its a paid service that will provide search volume by keyword in your area so you know the most commonly searched terms. Its $7 for a 7 day trial on the site. Your freelance content marketing hire or SEO specialist will likely have an Ahrefs.com account and will be able to help you target the right keywords.

Trends.Google.com is a great free resource for casual studying. You can see what terms have higher search volume in a comparison to one another on a state by state basis.

Watch a YouTube video on Ahrefs and Trends and learn the ropes and how to navigate them.

Step 2: Research your competitors and their content:

Think of a question that a potential customer of yours might type into Google. Lets use the lawn care example again. Type “How to mow a lawn” into Google. The first result (if you skip past the videos on YouTube) is “how to mow a lawn – lawn mowing tips – Scotts”. The company that makes Scotts Turf Builder fertilizer and weed control products. Its a list of 8 tips on how to mow a lawn. Look at any nationwide home services franchise and you’ll see great examples of content marketing.

The goal will be to build out an article that is 10x better than that top result. A better guide means more value and more engagement from your potential customers. More trust from your potential customers.

You can use Ahrefs to analyze the keywords your competitors are ranking for.

Step 3: Think about the DIYers and build guides for them that answer their questions

Remember – someone searching for DIY is still a potential customer. They are just checking out their options.

Make a list of the many questions they might ask your customer service team. Make a list of the many questions a friend would ask you if they were about to try to do the service themselves.

Instead of the sales oriented tight lipped approach you should spill your guts trying to help them. All the knowledge you’ve built up over the years about your specific service should be shared. Build the best resource that you can. Use your keywords and your city name in the title and body of your article. Spend some time on making great content that will truly help them. Next time you offer your service make a little how to video to accompany the article.

Step 4: Intertwine your guides and landing pages with links

Don’t make your landing page 1000+ words. Link to your guides so curious customers can click on them and read more if they desire. Also consider putting them lower on your page so they can stumble upon them as they learn more. Link from your guide to your other guides and other landing pages. Link from your landing pages to other landing pages. Anywhere that you can provide a helpful link with more information you should do so.

Notes:

Content Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a long time to kick in and achieve desired profitabile actions from your customers. It’s all about consistent delivery over time. It takes at least 9 months to start feeling the positive effects of great content marketing on your bottom line. It takes an average of 13-17 months. That’s not quick. You have to be willing to delay gratification and do the work that is important but not urgent.

Since this takes time it should be one of the first things you do as you explore starting a business. Don’t wait until you are fully operational and desperate for customers to pay the bills to get started on this strategy. Start it day 1. Its low risk if you do the writing yourself. Worst case that content sits and ages well and the phone starts ringing a few years from now and you re-visit the idea.

If you aren’t a great writer or you just don’t have time don’t be afraid to outsource this to a freelancer who specializes in content marketing. Look at it as an investment. You might need to spend $30 a day on Google Adwords for eternity to get customers or you could spend $1000 a month for great content marketing for a year and be on the first page of Google indefinitely. I’d take option #2 anytime.

Don’t use sales lingo. Write as if you are writing to a friend. No need to hire me. This is everything I know and I just want to help you with no expectation.

Think quality over quantity. It’s much better to put out one great article a week for two years than one small brief not-noteworthy article every day. The ultimate guide to a weed free lawn in Bloomington Indiana. The ultimate guide to a perfect landscaping project in Bloomington Indiana.

Top lists and tip lists are great. 10 tips to a better lawn in Bloomington Indiana. 10 ways you can keep your lawn weed free in Bloomington Indiana. The 10 most common weeds and how to prevent them in Bloomington Indiana. You get the point.

Don’t forget YouTube videos. It’s the largest search engine in the world and a great way to show up on the first page of Google. Don’t believe me? Search “Indiana University Student Storage” on Google and take a look at what shows up. Thats my partner Dan doing a little talk about our business. We made one of those for every school and within about 6 months they were on the fist page of Google. Is it great content? We definitely should have done better. But it has helped us over the years no doubt.

Evergreen content is best. Content that will always be relevant and will drive traffic over time. Don’t put a time stamp on content or talk about information that has a shelf life. Write something that will still be a valuable asset a few years from now.

This is a very dense topic and I’ve barely touched the surface.

Some additional information on this topic – Joe Pulizzi is widely known as the premier authority on the subject. He has a great book called Epic Content Marketing. It’s a little older now so I’d recommend hopping on YouTube and searching “Content Marketing Strategy by Joe Pulizzi”. Phenomenal video that touches on a lot of these topics, why it’s so important and how you should think about it. Go on Google and type in “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing”. I guarantee you that first result is a great piece of content.

April 2, 2019 6:37 am