I enjoy being an entrepreneur – and the challenge of scaling the business up and up and up…

Growing a business by establishing an infrastructure (systems, procedures, and people) that can support an increase of clients or customers.

Think about it… if you’ve only got two well-trained people (yourself being one of them) who do very technical and time-consuming work, you’re going to eventually come up against a very hard fact – you can’t take on more clients even though that’s what’s needed to create more profit from the business.

And that’s the place I’m finding myself.

One of the purposes of this blog is to share real-life business situations that I face, so you can learn from them.

The good. The bad. The ugly. And the challenging.

So this is one of those kinds of posts.

Following is the story behind where I’m at right now (March 2015) with my podcast production business

I’m going to share the honest details of:

  • how I got to where I am with this particular business
  • what I’ve done to scale the business
  • oversights and mistakes I made in that process
  • what I’m doing to correct those problems

The www.PodcastFastTrack.com story

podcastfasttracksimpleI started Podcast Fast Track early 2012 at the suggestion of a friend who was a bit further down the online business entrepreneur world than I was. Jason T. Wiser runs a couple of different, but related businesses and is a great Christian brother. We’ve enjoyed many conversations together over the last few years that were rich in business topics and spiritual encouragement. Thanks Jason!

Anyway…

One day we were talking over the details of some work I’d been doing for him; editing and optimizing some audio files he wanted to use for a podcast.

Jason said something to me that hit me like the voice of  God, for two reasons:

1 His words were incredibly timely

2 Being a fellow Christ-follower, he’s indwelt by the Spirit of God (thus, God can easily use him in that way).

Jason T. Wiser

My buddy Jason told me…

Here’s what Jason said…

You should make a business out of this.

Simple words. But that was all it took – and I started working on a podcast production business.

The reason it was such a timely word was because…

  • I’d been podcasting for 2 years and knew that it was highly likely that successful podcasters would pay someone else to take over their editing and production process.
  • I had already been praying for the right business to provide for my family. Podcast production fit the bill.

Growing the business was easy at first… until it became a job.

All I had to do was get more clients, which turned out to be relatively easy at first. I developed a pretty simple, “relational” email marketing process that got me conversion rates (AKA: new clients) over double what is typical (I’ll write about that in detail in time…).

So I filled up my personal podcast production capacity pretty quickly. It was almost enough to totally fund my family budget. That was great. Really great!

BUT…

I was doing all the work. Which is not a bad thing if you want to have a job. But I didn’t want to have a job, I wanted to have a business.

What’s the difference?

A job ties you to the repeated tasks of the service or product fulfillment your business provides, over and over.
  • You’re doing the work.
  • You’re cranking out the widgets (in this case, the audio).
  • You’re doing everything yourself to bring in the cash.

That’s fine, if it’s what you want.

A business can run with or without your direct involvement as a business owner (preferably without).
  • A business becomes a blessing to others who don’t mind having a “job” by training them and giving them a job, while it still provides your living.
  • You run the business, keep it going, organize it, monitor it.
  • In time, a business could grow large enough that you’re able to hire people to do even those things – which frees you up to do other things.

I wanted a business, not a job. Maybe you do too? (tell me about your “business dream” in the comments below)

That’s when I decided it was time to outsource (AKA scale up the business)

craigslist outsourceThe first thing I did was post an ad on Craigslist for a podcast producer.

And I searched for one in Manilla. Yep, the Philippines.

I went straight to the source to find someone smart, who could communicate in English reasonably well, but didn’t cost as much as a U.S. based person.

Why didn’t I use E-lance or O-desk or some other hyphenated-named freelance provider? I didn’t want to pay fees to somebody in the middle. This was a “low cost” experiment in every way.

I got some great candidates apply. To a person they were everything I hoped – eager to please and happy to learn my systems. So I started interviewing; asking questions about skill, attitude, etc.

And I communicated that I wanted us to be a team, working together to benefit each other and the business. I wanted to treat them more than fairly, even generously (that’s what Jesus would do – I’m convinced of that). Everyone was eager to give it a try.

My plan was to send each of 3 “final” candidates a trial episode with instructions for how to produce it like I wanted it done. They were all happy to give it a try.

But I’d have to bring this new team member on slowly, over 4 to 6 months (starting them with one episode a week, adding another, then another, etc.) simply because the finances wouldn’t allow me to bring them on quickly.

That’s where I was when something very important changed…

Aaron and our sweet daughter-in-love Hannah

Aaron and our sweet daughter-in-love Hannah

My oldest son needed a source of income and asked me if he could work alongside me in the podcast business.

Wow! I was more than happy to make room for him.

Aaron already knew how to use the main piece of software I was using and with a few quick tutorials about the specifics of my process, he was ready to go. And different from outsourcing to people I didn’t know or trust (yet), I was willing to take financial risks to get him started alongside me. It would help him and help me at the same time, and I’d have to trust the LORD to provide for us as we moved ahead together, one step at a time.

So that’s what I did.

I put a “pause” on the interviews with other clients (they were very understanding) and I began passing along audio editing jobs to Aaron. He’s still doing a great job today!

Business-wise, things were going pretty well under that arrangement.

  • I continued to add clients approximately every other week and we reached 17 total clients who published varying numbers of episodes per week.
  • My time was freed up to work on my systems so our process could be smoother and simpler
  • I was able to increase my marketing.

Things were going well.

Adding a service to the things we offered

I saw very quickly that adding high-value, related services to what I was already doing would be an easy “win” with my existing clients and would increase my cash-flow without lots of new customer acquisition efforts. Show I worked out a plan to add SHOW NOTES to my offerings.

Show notes are the blog post that accompanies the podcast, on the client’s website.

Typically, show notes contain:

  • Resources mentioned in the podcast episode.
  • Links to those resources.
  • Keyword-focused summaries and outlines of the episode so readers can scan the post and decide if they want to listen.
  • Some kind of social-media sharing options to drive more traffic to the episode (typically tweets).

google-docs-logoAs I’ve done with every “new” thing in this business, I did all the work on the show notes at first.

That enabled me to do a handful of important things:

  • I found out that good show notes are an art. Really. They need to be written in a way that’s engaging, clear, and compelling – so that readers become listeners.
  • I developed a format for how they should look on the page and what elements go into making that format pop.’
  • I put together a system for producing them that I could put on paper (a Google doc) for those who would take on the job behind me.

I enjoyed writing the show notes and found a way to do it while I was editing the audio – and it only added about 25 minutes to the process.

It was working pretty well.

That’s when my scaling efforts got side-tracked by some very good things…

business scaling puzzleTo this point I’d created a pretty good “business-puzzle.” There were lots of pieces, lots of things to systematize and keep track of. But overall it was going pretty well.

But being a “multipreneur” (which is how I see myself) is a very dangerous thing. It’s hard to keep a balance between all the great ideas and the wise (timely) execution of them.

For some time I’d wanted to get my coaching business (this website) going. In thinking it through, I’d planned to have it visible and available when my “Mind Hacks” book-set launched. But if I was going to do that, I had to clear some time in my schedule so I could work on those things.

I admit that I got a bit impatient and pushed ahead when I should have held back. So I looked to outsourcing again – but this time for the show notes.

On paper it made a lot of sense.

  • I could outsource the show notes easily and still make a decent profit.
  • It would take far less training if I took the time to find the right people.
  • I could have very little to do with it personally – once my systems were in place.

But “on paper” didn’t account for my impatience.

I put together some initial systems, found some folks who could do a good job on the show notes, and passed the task along to them for all my show notes clients. The transition was pretty simple and smooth – and the people I contracted for that role did a great job.

But I’d jumped the gun and didn’t know it.

Why didn’t I know it? Because I wasn’t carefully monitoring the financial end of the business puzzle I’d created.

How do you know when you can afford to outsource?

Contracting non-employees (Virtual Assistants, freelancers, etc.) to do work for your business.

It’s common sense that if you’re going to pay people to do a job, you’ve got to have the money coming in that will enable you to actually pay them.

I knew that.

But I’d moved too fast. I’d created another outgoing cost to the business without looking over all the factors. That’s one of my hard-learned lessons I’d like you to take away from this:

Don’t move ahead with a “great idea” or plan until you look at EVERYTHING it will impact.

What did I overlook? My personal income. By outsourcing the show notes I’d moved us into a place where I’d shorted my own family budget.

I can see that there will come a time when I’ll have to take a “calculated risk” in order to bring on more team members (outsourcing). But this wasn’t a risk, it was an immediate and direct impact on one of the central goals of my business (to take care of my family).

So I had to re-evaluate. I had to make some hard decisions.

Here’s what they were…

  1. I had to increase my marketing to secure more clients. No problem. Happy to do it. It’s already working.
  2. I had to recall all the show notes jobs so that money could go to my family’s needs.
  3. This created some internal shuffling between Aaron and me in regards to tasks and workload. But he’s been great to work with on it (“flexible” is the word)

And that’s where we are now…

I thank the LORD that we caught the issue when we did.

I thank the LORD that we’re able to recover fairly easily.

It means that I’m going to have to go back to doing some things I’d enjoyed having off my plate, but that’s OK. It’s part of the price I’m willing to pay to build the business the right way.

It means that Aaron is going to have to stick with audio production longer than we’d hoped (We both want to move him into more of a managerial role in time). But he’s willing and I’m thankful for that, too.

learn about business scalingSpiritual lessons from an almost business scaling disaster?

I don’t think I did anything “wrong” morally or ethically.

  • I simply made some decisions without making sure I knew ALL the facts ABOUT those decisions. It’s a hard-learned lesson for which I’m thankful. I know I won’t make that same mistake again.
  • Perhaps laziness was the issue. I don’t know, maybe. At the very least it was neglect of the details.
  • Maybe it happened because I assumed things one week, based on facts from the previous week, which had since changed.
  • In the end, it was reverse-able – and a great opportunity to learn from a mistake that wasn’t too costly.

I need to patiently trust the LORD to guide me – even more than I already do.

  • I do suspect that some of why I moved ahead with the show notes outsource is because I was personally so eager to get a great new project going. Sometimes eagerness (which is a good thing) can become a bad thing – when it pushes us forward too quickly. I’m hopeful that I won’t do that one again, but I can see it’s a hard lesson to learn simply because we humans tend to think that what we feel strongly about is the right thing to do.
  • I need to soak these things in prayer, much more than I do. Everyday decisions in business are decisions the LORD should be part of.
  • I need to be more patient. I’m going to do my best to adopt this attitude:

If God wants it, it will happen. I can afford to wait for clarity because HE is not in a hurry.

That’s my business scaling story. Real-life, right now, where I’m at.

I’d love to hear your feedback, thoughts, and receive your input in the comments below. Anything you can teach me is gladly received!