Listen now to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast:
Welcome to another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Sign up for the weekly newsletter so you never miss an episode. Do you have a question you’d like Elizabeth and Gene to answer? Submit your question to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.
Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back with another episode of your new favorite podcast, Small Biz Ahead the Podcast, with Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks. This week we’re going to focus on time versus money, which I think is one of the biggest struggles that small business owners have. I mean Gene you’re a seasoned …
Gene: Time is money Elizabeth, remember that always.
Elizabeth: You’re a seasoned pro at this point. You probably still struggle with time versus money.
Gene: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a big issue.
Elizabeth: We asked the small business community to send in their most pressing questions, and this week’s questions are both about this topic. Let’s get into this right after we hear from one of our sponsors.
QUESTION #1: Should I Grow My Business or Have a Life?
Elizabeth: Stacy writes
I’m always caught between the idea of expanding my business and making more money, and keeping my business small and having lots of free time. My business is an online illustration course. Is it even possible to keep a business small for a long period of time? I almost feel that if I’m not constantly updating my material, offerings and strategies, my business will just evaporate. Is it possible to have work-life balance when you’re in business for yourself?
Gene: Man Stacy’s got lots of questions.
Elizabeth: I know. I know. This is a conundrum. I feel like this is something a lot of people suffer from and I think even more when you’re a business owner and you don’t have a boss telling you what to prioritize, how do you figure out what to prioritize? What is the best use of your time? Do you focus on expanding your business or do you focus on time management and just having a lot of free time for yourself?
Gene: I can speak about that just personally and also using some client examples I think would help you Stacy with this question. Firstly, my company, I have a ten person company. We have been at ten people now for eight years. Different people have come and gone, not that much but still. I’ve not grown, like our revenues are a few million dollars a year, they’ve stayed at that level every year.
Growth is kind of overrated. Because I’ve kept it at ten people, my business offers me a living and a livelihood and a livelihood for my people, but because it’s at a certain level, it’s allowed me some flexibility, you know what I mean? I can runaway without anybody knowing. Here, for example, I spend time with you Elizabeth and have these conversations, or I coach my kid’s Little League team or have flexibility and balance. If I was running a company two or three times this size, yeah I’d be making a lot more money I guess, but number one I wouldn’t be having the kind of time available that I would have now, I’m sure of that. Number two is I don’t even think I would be that good at it.
Stacy, you have to say to yourself, you’re talking about spending time evolving your business, making it better, or having new offerings, new services and all that. You have to do that anyway just to maintain your existing business. You can’t get fat and happy and sit there and not update yourself and always be good if you even want to just maintain the status quo, you’ve got to be doing that. Growing your business, maybe you’re just not the type of person.
I have a client, a really good client, based near Trenton NJ. Four brothers run it. They do about … They’re much bigger than my business and Stacy’s business it sounds like. They distribute paper and film, boring, boring, boring. They do about twelve million dollars a year in sales. They have about a hundred employees. They had aspirations of growing this business to a twenty-five million a year business. I’ve known these guys for a while, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I just don’t. I think it’s nice that they’re thinking of doing this and all that, and that’s what their goals are, and I give them all the help that they can, but these guys, they are just not managers of a twenty-five million dollar company. These guys like to leave work and drink beer and play golf and then come back.
Elizabeth: They want to have a life.
Gene: They want to have a life. I just know that it’s a much different life when you’re running a twenty-five million dollar company versus a twelve million dollar company. I don’t think they have the skill set to do it. I really don’t. I think that they’re going to revert to some of their old sort of ways. I guess Stacy, the question is this. What kind of life do you want to have? What do you want out of your business? If your business is providing a good livelihood and you’ve got balance and you can spend time with your family and that’s what you want out of the very short time that you walk this planet, then good for you. That’s what a business does. If you want to be Queen of the Universe and run a business ten times the size because that’s what jazzes you up, then great, go for that as well. There’s nothing wrong with not growing. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s overrated.
Elizabeth: Maintaining. Another spin on this question that I was thinking about is her business is an online illustration course, so someone buys that course and that’s it. Unless you create something new, you’re not going to get anymore money out of that person.
Elizabeth: Her real push should be marketing it to new customers constantly. She also feels like she needs to update her product all of the time.
Elizabeth: Where would you be putting your time there?
Gene: Right. First of all it depends on how un-updated your product is. I mean if it’s online illustration course, and you think you can ride that for five years, then you should be spending your time on marketing. If it’s something that for you to stay current you’ve got to be updating all the time, then what can I say, you’ve got to be spending more time updating it. It really depends on what the product is.
Elizabeth: In order to really grow your business in terms of more revenue, you would probably need to create an entirely new product. You have these customers who have bought one online illustration course, maybe they want to buy illustration two point O or something.
Gene: Correct. The other question is is those customers themselves, if they bought your illustration course and they’re happy with that course, what referrals and other kind of work can you get out of them? What are you doing to stay in touch with them? There’s always a two point O Elizabeth, right, and a three point O and a four. You always have to be evolving.
I look at the products we sell. We sell technology. That stuff gets out-of-date. I’m constantly thinking should I be adding other services and other technologies to either compliment or substitute, take over from stuff that’s growing out-of-date. That’s just to stay current. That’s to maintain a certain revenue stream without even thinking of growing. You always have to have that mindset.
Elizabeth: I totally forgot what I was going to say. All right, question two coming up after we hear from our sponsor.
Gene: We could always go back by the way.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I don’t really feel like I had much more to add on that.
Elizabeth: It’s like a kind of simple question.
QUESTION #2: Should I Learn Search Engine Optimization
Question two comes from Ryan from Florida. Another Florida person.
All right. Ryan in Florida asks:
I run an online business selling information products. I know a lot about the products that I sell, but very little about building websites, marketing, advertising and SEO. For anyone wondering SEO is search engine optimization. My budget is tight, so hiring freelancers isn’t always an option and unfortunately I don’t have a lot of free time. I’m always caught between determining if I should learn a new skill, such as web development, hire a freelancer, or stick with what I have, which in this case is an outdated website. Is there any way to determine when to commit to learning a new skill or when to hire a freelancer …Or when to accept that a certain aspect of my business will be outdated for a period of time?
Elizabeth: I have very strong opinions on this.
Gene: Go, go. What does he sell by the way? What is his product?
Elizabeth: He just said online products.
Gene: Online products, okay.
Elizabeth: If you don’t have the skill to do something, you need to hire someone to do it. Unless you are dying to learn web design, you need to hire someone to do that. The question I would have for Gene then, and I think you’d agree with that Gene?
Gene: Hundred percent.
Elizabeth: The question I would have is if you don’t know anything about, for instance SEO, and you hire a freelancer, how do you manage that freelancer? You don’t know, I mean, how do you come up with benchmarks to say, or metrics to judge them by?
Gene: Yes, it’s certainly an issue. First of all I have to say this Elizabeth. Ryan dude, I mean you’re selling stuff online and you really don’t know anything about all this stuff like website design and search engine optimization and all like … You know what I’m saying? It’s like kind of like you’re saying I’m a contractor but I don’t know anything about this hammering stuff. Don’t ask me anything about sawing.
Elizabeth: I have the feeling he knows more than he thinks he does.
Elizabeth: He probably doesn’t know how to code but he knows what WordPress is.
Gene: Okay. All right.
Elizabeth: If you sell online products, like you have a website. That was the first thing you did when you started your business.
Gene: Right. Right. Let’s talk specifics for Ryan and then I’d like to comment on hiring people, how you manage them and whatever. First of all, if you’re setting up an online business in 2016, and you’re a small business owner, there are so many out of the box services that are available to you, that will enable you, that provide all of those resources to you so you don’t have to be an expert. There’s Amazon for example, if you’re an Amazon seller. eBay is another great site. Go Daddy, Yahoo Business, Google Business. I’m naming just a few. There’s a great service called Yodle which you can set up your website and to sell online. The same thing with YP, the old Yellow Pages will provide those services.
Gene: Shopify, perfectly. Shop Keep is another place. There’s a ton of different places. What they do to exist, is they speak to people like Ryan to say okay look you want to sell your products online, you know what you know about your products, we know what we know about selling online. Sign up for our service, pay, and we’re going to provide you with templates, the website design, the search engine optimization tools, and all that good stuff so that you can do what you’ve got to do. That’s my recommendation to him. Don’t build anything from scratch, don’t get into web design. Being your own website designer is a profession, it’s an expertise. You don’t have time to do that, you’re trying to sell your products.
Elizabeth: Unless you’re very interested in it. I know for instance the new thing now, I don’t want to scare anyone who maybe doesn’t even know the basics of this, but the new thing now, is if you’re selling something online, you need to be able to test your calls to action.
Elizabeth: You don’t want to have a custom site where you have to pay someone make all those updates.
Gene: Right. Sure, sure.
Elizabeth: Learning the basics, if you have the time and you’re interested, learning the basics of website design is probably a good use of your time, but I’m mean web development not web design, but unless you’re going to go out and market your skills to other business, it’s probably not worth getting a certification in it or something.
Gene: You made an interesting point, you say if you’re interested in it, you could learn more. I’ll argue with you to the extent that it’s important that you know something, it’s nice that you’re interested, but there has to be a return on investment. Bill Gates has always said historically, he’s a developer. He loves to code. You know what I mean? He was always interested in writing developing. He put that interest aside to build his company. If you’re looking to make money and build a business, it may not be necessarily what you’re so much interested to do versus what you’re willing to spend your time doing to make more money.
Now getting back to Ryan’s original question though, let’s say he goes with Google Business or with Go Daddy or with Yodle, or Amazon or whatever, it’s still going to take it’s commitment of time. You don’t just snap your fingers and set up an online store on Amazon. Not only that, Amazon, to use them as an example, they provide so many awesome tools and things that you can take advantage of, but then Ryan do you have the time to really become an expert at that?
What my recommendation is is that you pick a service like that, that provides you with all those tools and the templates and everything out of the box, you certainly can get yourself up to speed and familiarize yourself with what the features are, but now you want to then go on LinkedIn or UpWork or Guru or Craig’s List or somewhere to find somebody that’s got experience working with that platform. To have a good consultant that can work with you a few hours a week or a day a week who works your Amazon site. They don’t have to create anything from scratch, but they’ve got experience and expertise exploiting all the tools and capabilities that an Amazon or an eBay or any of those sites will give to you. That’s my recommendation as to it. Start with that foundation and then bring in somebody to help you out.
Elizabeth: Amazon will let you build a website or it will let you build a listing for you product.
Gene: It’s listing, but then you can customize it significantly into your own little site.
Elizabeth: Oh okay. Oh neat, I didn’t know that.
Gene: Yeah Amazon resellers have got their own sites that are there or you can link back to your own site if you want to build something else.
Elizabeth: Just for the record, we are going to list everything that Gene and I have talked about. We will have that in the show notes, so you don’t have to take notes while you are listening to this.
Gene: Yeah, please, just keep driving, my goodness, don’t be taking any notes down.
Elizabeth: Stay on the treadmill, we’re going to jot everything down for you.
Elizabeth: Okay. Great. Now, back to my question though. If you have a skills gap, how do you manage freelancers?
Gene: Yeah, it’s tough. I deal with this all the time. I hire developers. We were talking before, I have a digital marketing person, she’s a freelancer that gives me twenty hours a week, and I don’t know SEO from the NFL. It’s kind of tough. You can’t become an expert, so you’re just relying on them to just do what you want to do.
The reason why that’s tough is because to really become good at managing somebody, you almost have to have your own experience. You’re never going to be that great at it, unless you came from that field. If I was managing somebody doing a CRM project or that’s doing accounting work, I’d be great at that, because I’ve done all that stuff. SEO is like dark matter to me in how that all works. You are going to have to rely to an extent.
My advice though is that if you hire a freelancer to do your search engine optimization, there are certain metrics that are clear with search engine optimization. It’s views, it’s clicks to your site, it’s social media followers, whether it’s Twitter or fans or likes on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. You want to have specific metrics. For my search engine optimization, digital marketing person that’s helping me with this stuff, we’ve set up just some basic like listen I’ve hired you, I have X amount of Twitter followers now. My expectation is within six months I’m going to have X amount more. Black and white. In the end, it’s all about getting hits on your website, isn’t it, or followers on your social media site. I kind of make it just very black and white. You’re doing your job well if we hit those goals, and if you’re falling short, we need to understand why.
Elizabeth: Another thing I want to add, there are people out there who do marketing coaching, and they cover all of these topics. Building websites, marketing, advertising, what kind of platform should I use, what kind of ad service should I use, so that way you don’t have to sit there and shift through all this stuff and do the research, they’ve already done it. Some of them, you can just grab and hour of their time for like a hundred dollars and that might actually save you five to six hours of online research and googling. Search out that. You can just Google marketing coach, you can get a local one, you can look for one online in your industry. I’m all about just pay someone a hundred dollars to save yourself five hours. I always think that’s a good use of your time.
Gene: Completely agree. I’d like to offer as well and Elizabeth let’s put in the show notes, I’ve got a few names of some good marketing consultants and social media people that we’ll put their websites in show notes that you can certainly reach out to. I hope as our podcast continues and in the future we might bring some of these people on to get into some details about this.
Elizabeth: That would be great, that would be great, just to get the basics. Okay, we’re going to hear from our sponsor one more time and then we’re going to have a bonus question for Gene.
BONUS QUESTION: What Movie Is Your Life As a Small Business Owner Most Like?
Elizabeth: All right so we’re back and I have a bonus question for Gene.
Gene: The bonus round.
Elizabeth: The bonus round, yay!
Gene: Bring it on. Ask me anything about the Godfather, go ahead I’m ready.
Elizabeth: What do you think, actually it is about a move, what do you think is the movie that best depicts your …
Elizabeth: Your life as a small business owner.
Gene: What do I think best depicts my life as a small business owner.
Elizabeth: Is it like a triumph, a struggle?
Gene: Easy, it’s Groundhog Day will Bill Murray.
Elizabeth: That’s so good, that’s such a good answer.
Gene: That is my life as a small business owner and the reason why, think about it. Really, people romanticize what it’s like to run a small business, it’s a very repetitive thing, right? I mean you’re just running a business. It’s not like you’re changing the world in your own little way.
Elizabeth: A little bit every day.
Gene: Yeah, you’re making a living, right? It’s the same customers; It’s the same arguments; It’s the same yelling; It’s the same people who don’t pay you; It’s the same people that don’t do what they say they’re going to do. You’re reliving that but like Groundhog Day, Bill Murray ultimately got Andie MacDowell, at the end of that movie and the way that he got her is because he worked at it for endless days. Remember he became fluent in French, he learned how to play the piano. All this great stuff that he learned to do and then, of course, he learned how to be himself but he educated himself. All though I say it’s very repetitive, I started my company in 1994, so god, it’s like 22 years now so even though it’s very repetitive I’ve gotten better at it and I’ve gotten to the point, now, where when you run a business you … I can meet perspective customers or talk to them on the phone, pretty much know within 30 seconds if they’re for real or for not. I gotten pretty good at qualifying, you know? I gotten used to the excuses, gotten used to baloney that people throw at you. If you do this for free I know a lot of people, I can get you a lot of customers, that kind of stuff.
I’ve also learned to identify … I’ve become more self confident, just like Bill Murray, more educated, more experienced to answer questions, more willing to walk away from opportunities if I didn’t think that it was going to be the right thing. All of this, while being done in an idyllic little Pennsylvania town. Of course mine is in Pennsylvania. Not exactly as nice as Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania but same kind of thing.
Elizabeth: Any time you can equate yourself with Bill Murray, it’s a good day.
Gene: He is the man, he is the man. I will equate myself with Bill Murray so to answer you question it’s Groundhog Day.
Elizabeth: Did you see him at March Madness the other night, he was watching a game and really emoting.
Gene: All of his reactions, there was a viral video of him showing. It’s funny, it’s really funny.
Elizabeth: It’s so funny, I have a friend from Wisconsin and she just put on twitter, “Bill Murray is really making me mad right now.”
Gene: Bill Murray is like a … I mean he shows up, he was in Philly, where I’m from, his son got married in Philadelphia last summer and he was all over town. He just goes out in these dive bars in town and he just goes into bars and it’s just himself and he hangs out with people. He’s hilarious, he’s a hilarious guy.
Elizabeth: I can see that. All right, thanks for joining us again this week. We’ll be back next week, we’re going to be talking more about websites and online presences. In the mean time you can find Small Biz Ahead by Googling Small Biz Ahead. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter and while you’re there you should also definitely sign up for our weekly e-mail because we send out all of Gene’s articles, we send out reminders for this podcast and we send out all of the great content that we have on that site every week. We never spam you, we always save your e-mail address, it’s very important to us and I think that will hit your mailboxes around 10pm eastern every Monday so you can expect to hear from us then.
Google Small Biz Ahead and the e-mail signup is right on the right side of the screen as well as all of Gene’s amazing articles. Thanks.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only and solely those of the podcast’s participants, contributors and guests and do not constitute an endorsement by, or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates