Highway of Speed Bumps

Last week was pretty brutal; like a high way of speed bumps.  While looking ahead last Sunday I knew it was going to be a tough week, given my intense work schedule and time-consuming objectives.  I had set my mind to plough through it but I didn’t know half of what I was up against.

Lately, the restaurant has been short-staffed.  The week of Valentines Day is one of the busiest weeks of the year.  As expected, I was scheduled to work every single night and doubles on the weekend for a total of 9 shifts.  In addition, my shifts started earlier and ended later than usual, especially Valentines Day.  It’s not so bad to work every night as long as I have enough time during the day to work on my business and an early out or two so to have some time at night to touch base with my client and spend some time with my girlfriend before it gets too late.  Those early nights also allow me catch up on sleep if necessary.  I sort of have a routine and this last week threw it all off-balance.    On top of that, I had four disasters occur.

First, the sewer lines backed up into my apartment on Valentines Day.  The main for the whole property was clogged so whenever the tenants in the main house flushed a toilet or ran water it backed up into our apartment because our apartment sits lower than the house.  Shit literally runs down-hill.  Unbeknownst to them their toilet was running for hours (somebody forgot to jiggle the handle) so ours was over-flowing for hours, flooding our apartment with the foulest mix of shit you can imagine.  It backed up into the shower too.  My girlfriend spent the night at a friend’s house so she could shower for work in the morning.  Thus, I was left to deal with the plumber and clean up the mess.  The only good part was all the puns…can you believe that shit?  Why does this shit have to happen this week?  Yeah, I cleaned that shit up.

The second disaster shouldn’t have been a disaster at all, maybe an incumbrance at best.  My car needed brakes.  I had been putting it off for two months and knew if I didn’t do it soon I would end up with a major problem.  Plus, during my Monday commute I had to slam on the brakes and noticed they don’t work so well in that type of situation.  Enough is enough.  I scheduled it early in the morning so I could still put in a solid day’s work afterwards.  But fuck me runnin’ sideways, an hour and a half job turned into 6 hours!  By the time I got home I had just enough time to take a shower and get to work.

Next day, my girlfriend’s car won’t start…as if I need to spend another day at Firestone.  Jumping it did not work so it could be the alternator.  Hoping it’s just a really dead battery though.  Regardless, I’ve had to shuttle her to and from work the last few days.  Another hour a day gone.

Fourth, my girlfriend’s dog had a seizure yesterday during a conference call with my client.  We had been playing phone tag all week and didn’t get more than 30 seconds in before I had to go.  For that I was frustrated but for the dog I was scarred.  It was Sunday so the vet was closed and I couldn’t afford to take him to an emergency clinic.  Fortunately, he was back to normal before I had to go to work.  However, this is the second time he has done this so we need to figure out why this is happening.  The blood work will be expensive but I can’t let the little guy suffer.

So….Monday was the only normal day I had.  The rest of the week was pretty much sabotaged.  I did not prospect for new clients like I wanted to.  I did not complete any of the medial tasks I promised my client.

However, last week wasn’t a complete failure.  I still managed to notch a few achievements.  While at the body shop I skimmed through an entire book on Wordpress that I’d been meaning to get to since November.  I learned a lot about plug-ins, user management, advanced customization, optimization, and other cool stuff I honestly didn’t understand yet.  I also enrolled two business ideas in a fast pitch event coming in three weeks.  Who knows maybe someone will like one of them.  I checked the block on some monthly financial goals too.  Best of all, what I would I call my crowing achievement in a shit week, I finally persuaded my client to redo the book cover, found a good freelancer to do the job, and looks like we’ll get rolling on it this week.

Looking forward to a smoother road this week.

Gut Check

I’ve been putting in a lot of time promoting this book.  I wake up, go right to my computer, and work right until I should’ve been in the shower in ten minutes ago to be to work on time.  Half the time I forget to eat lunch.  I haven’t taken the dogs to the park in a while, the list of things I need to do outside of work like replace my brakes, do laundry and get a hair cut is piling up, and my relationship is deteriorating.  At least I’m kicking ass on this book though, right?  Wrong.  Each day there is more to do than I can ever get done so I always feel like I’m coming up short.  I realize that you have to maximize your productivity and effectiveness by focusing on tasks that give you the highest return but the truth is just about everything I’ve been doing has a low return.  It’s a low return game until that one spark lights a fire.

Speaking of return, I get the most frustrated when I think in terms of my hourly wage.  I have made less than $30 for a month of busting my butt and sacrificing.  So it probably comes out to somewhere around 25 cents an hour.  I knew it was going to be like this going into it but I’ve really been dwelling on it.  What if it never takes off?  What if I waste two, three, six months on this and I’m still waiting tables, saving $100/month, lugging around $80K in debt?

These thoughts worry me because I know that success is sabotaged by doubts like this.  But I also think it is natural for anyone to step back and re-evaluate where things are going at this point.  I’ve been thinking hard about this client, the business of social media marketing, and even entrepreneurship altogether.

I’ve learned a lot since beginning this thing in November.  It takes more time than I thought to manage a client’s social media well and you inevitably find yourself doing way more than just building a fan base and posting updates.  Not that I was naive enough to think that was all I would be doing….I am just shocked by how many small businesses need photographs, a logo in digital format, and to set a marketing budget before I can even begin to do my part.  I’m also shocked that a lot of businesses out there have serious issues that social media can not help.  Social media is the salt and pepper and they need meat and potatoes first.  Sometimes their meat and potatoes are rancid and what they really need is rebranding, new management, change their menu, change location, change their pricing strategy, etc.  Others need/want a bunch of stuff I don’t do like email campaigns, websites, SEO, writing of press releases and blog posts, logo creation, etc, etc, etc.  Bottom line is there aren’t many great small businesses out there that are prime for a little social media marketing to take them over the top….it’s just not that easy.  Handling one or two real-world clients is easily a full-time job and nobody wants to pay me $1000+/month to do it.  They don’t even want to pay $300.  Moreover, there are a lot of businesses where the business owners need to be doing it themselves because they are their brand….artists, designers, agents, etc.  Also, big national brands don’t want you playing with their brand and prefer to keep it in-house.  So that leaves me with a much smaller market, a service that’s either too expensive or too lacking, and some serious scalability problems.

I’ve thought about going back to school (briefly…).  I’ve thought about starting another business (a lot).  Before I began Digital Whale I was working on a business with two other guys.  I was the money (funny right?) and the idea and they were the tech muscle but ultimately we had to abandon it because I couldn’t cover the startup costs.  I’ve since come up with some ideas to significantly reduce those costs.  It’s still more than I have or could save in a reasonable amount of time but it’s now little enough that I could borrow it.  But then do I just abandon Digital Whale or do I pursue both until one takes off, like having two horses in the race?  Again, all the success stories I’ve read that tell you this train of thought leads to certain failure.  I can’t even do one business well and doing two not-well doesn’t make much sense.

Though, isn’t it too early to declare Digital Whale a failure anyways?  Have I really tried?  I haven’t even landed a paying client that’s a local business.  The more I think about the viability of Digital Whale the more I think I just need to evolve it.  Afterall the market for what I’m dabbling in is hot.  Businesses want it and are willing to pay a little for it.  Many though don’t have time to do it themselves or are afraid of the technology or don’t know how to harness it.  There is still opportunity there and there isn’t anyone filling the niche in this market yet.  Perhaps I need to develop the consulting side.  I always thought that I would need paying clients to point to before I could say I’m a consultant but now I don’t think it’s necessary.  When I start talking to business owners they really listen to me.  Why?  I have answers to their questions, ideas, and know more about it than they do.  The word consulting isn’t the right word either.  It implies I charge thousands of dollars.  That’s probably why nobody asks me about my consulting services after they read my flyer even though they are trying to consult me right then and there.

If I develop some presentations on social media I could offer to come in and do workshops.  Maybe an hour-long and tailored to their needs.  If I would have approached the designers with a service like that they probably would have jumped on it and I would have gotten paid to outline a strategy for them like I did.  The workshop could be anything from a tutorial of platforms to laying out a strategy to walking them through setting up their accounts to analyzing why their current efforts aren’t working.  The audience could be the owners, the managers, even the employees.

The best part is I don’t have to get balls deep into their business.  I don’t have to fix their other problems or learn the ins and outs of their business to impersonate them.  I simply give them some tools and knowledge to help them harness the full power of social media.  Essentially, I’m saving them time.  They could learn everything I’m telling them on the internet (I did) but it would take them months of reading and trial and error.

The problems:  I suck at public speaking, mad stage fright.  I also don’t have any of the equipment I would need like a projector and portable screen, an air card for my laptop so I could get internet in any building or an iPad with internet from Verizon.  I don’t even have powerpoint….What are we at now like $1500-$3000?  Yikes!  I envisioned charging about $100-$200 per hour-long presentation so that even the smallest of businesses on the tightest budgets could potentially afford it.  I’ll have to think on all that for a few days.

I guess as it sits now I might as well keep plugging away on this book.  Who knows maybe it will pay off.  I think tomorrow I will door-to-door some businesses with flyers again.  This time I’ll change consulting to workshops or demos or something and focus my pitch around that just to test the waters.  Back to work…

January Goals and February Goals

I am proud to announce that I reached all four of my monthly goals for January.  I saved $100, paid off an extra $100 of credit card debt, joined a group (dart league), and most importantly landed my first paying client!  Barely made it on the first two.  After 1st of the month bills I’ll have less than $50 to my name (sheesh).  And my paying client hasn’t paid me anything yet but he will although it’s less than $20 since we haven’t sold very many books yet.  But hey who’s counting…

My girlfriend challenged me to increase my goals for February.  I just love her tenacity!  Looking ahead through February I fear that it will be harder financially than January.  I suspect my truck needs brakes since they squeak and I can feel a coarse grind reverberate through the brake pedal that’s like a blade on a wet stone.  Can’t forget Valentine’s Day either.  I want to buy her roses to show her how much I appreciate her and I want to buy her something nice since we didn’t give gifts for Christmas.  A couple of clients would off-set those expenses.

Despite fear of failure I decided to ramp it up for February and really go for it.  This month I am going to:

  1.   Save $120
  2.   Pay down an extra $120 of debt
  3.   Land 2 paying clients
  4.   Attend a meeting for a new group
  5.   Pay off my brakes by the end of the month

Number 4 will require me to take a night off from work since most of the groups I’ve found meet at night and I have to succeed at Number 3 to make Number 5 happen.

“Reschedule? Sure I’d Be Happy To…”

It was going to be a day in hell.  Work meeting at 1:30, pitch meeting at 3:00, work at 5:00, conference call with the author at 10pm.  I expected disaster since everything had to fall just right for me to be prepared and on time to everything.  If the 1:30 runs long which it usually does then I am late for the 3:00 which means I’ll be cutting it close getting to work and if my last table at work is a couple that camps out until a half hour after close I’ll be an hour late on the conference call.

The 1:30 meeting is our quarterly meeting for the restaurant where they present the new specials and policy changes that marginally affect us.  In other words a complete waste of my time except for the free food involved but I have to go if I want to keep my job.

The 3:00 was with the interior design ladies (remember them?).  I didn’t want to reschedule because I didn’t want them to think that I was unprofessional, unprepared, too busy or anything like that.

However, I was unprepared or only half prepared.  I had spent all my time on the author.  I was hoping to wake up an hour early, review what I had done a week ago, polish it up, and draw up a contract so if they like it they can sign on the spot.  I woke up two hours late!  Damnit!   I scrapped putting the contract together and just focused on my pitch.  I started to feel like it was going to be alright and I’ll probably land the job.

Just before I am about to get dressed for the 1:30 pow wow, one of the designers calls and wants to push it back to next week since her partner “had to go on vacation.”  Sounds like bullshit since nobody has to go on vacation.  Nor do they spontaneously plan and embark on a vacation within 1 week.  A red flag would’ve gone up when we set up the meeting last week that hey I am on vacation next week.  Either something awful happened, like a family death, or I got bumped for a meeting with a client.  Either way someone is a bad liar.  But what do I care?  This is best thing that could’ve happened!  Hell yeah we can reschedule for next week!  See ya Tuesday!

The 1:30 meeting was thus refreshing because I didn’t have to stress about whether my bosses tangents would run us long and it was far less stressful than the home office.  By the way, it ended at 2:30 on the dot for the first time in a long time so I would’ve made it on time to the 3:00.  Instead I use the time to prepare for my conference call with the author after work.

Work is dead, meaning slow.  I don’t get any campers or any tables of any sort at the end of the night so when I’m cut I get out of there lickity split at 9:30.  That never happens.

Turns out the author was entertaining visitors so we didn’t connect until 11pm so I got to spend some time with the girlfriend watching the Savannah episode of American Idol, which made me a little embarrassed to be living here with the seemingly high ratio of nut jobs….

The call went well.  He likes where I’m going with things and we sold our first book.  Couldn’t have been a better day.  Things just don’t fall my way like that.

My New Years Resolution(s)

I’m generally not big on New Years resolutions because I tend to set goals for myself throughout the year, both short-term goals and long-term goals.  I reflect on my goals often and they evolve as things change.  None of my goals ever align with the one year time frame a resolution is supposed to be.

However, this year is a bit different since the start of my social media marketing business, my drastically altered lifestyle, and finally getting caught up on bills are all coming together right now.  Moreover, 2011 really sucked for me and I am not going to hope for a better year in 2012.  I’m going to make it a better year!  With that in mind, here are my resolutions.

1)  Have 10 paying clients by 2013.

2)  Pay down my debts.

3)  Start saving for an engagement ring this year; at least $25/month.

4)  Get social again.  Network to meet new people and reconnect with friends I’ve abandoned the few months.

These were already goals of mine to begin with but I’m going to approach them differently.  The first goal needed a number.  I think ten is a good one.  It’s attainable and if reached will really help me with goals 2, 3 and 4.

Goal 3 needed a deadline.  I keep putting it off.  This year I will start saving.  I would like to put a higher dollar amount to it but at this point $25/month will be a start.

Admittedly, goals 2 and 4 are weak but I don’t want to set some grand target and get discouraged by slow progress in the first few months because I’m still broke.  Also, I don’t want to set the bar too low because as my financial situation improves I will be able pay off more debt and attend more get togethers.  So I started a list of monthly goals and put it on the fridge to keep me focused and accountable and to allow for adjustments as I go.  My goals for January are to pay down $100 of credit card debt, join a new group, land my first paying client, and put $100 into savings.  That will be a modest but good start.

Some of my old friends called yesterday needing a sixth man on their dart team so I joined.

Join a New Group:  CHECK

Good Talk

I have become increasingly isolated since I have had to cut out all of my social activities.  I talk with people at work and my girlfriend at home but it’s mostly small talk.  There isn’t anyone around me other than my dad who enjoys chatting about business, politics, or philosphy.  Since he’s been pretty busy this year, I often yearn for a stimulating conversation.

Two nights ago I stopped off at a friend’s pub for a cocktail on the way home from work.  I sat next to a couple guys at the end of the bar who were watching the football game.  One of them had a laptop and appeared to be working on something in between watching the game and carrying on conversations with the guy next to him and the couple in the next chairs over.  Towards the end of my drink, just before asking for my tab, we struck up a conversation.  My curiosity getting the best of me I asked him what he was working on.  It turns out he was writing content for his website and is one of the most respected and well known writers on FCS level football.  He and his buddy were in town for the weekend covering a game.

We found common ground on blogging, the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship, the rise and evolution of the internet, social media, content creation, finding a niche, and such.  It was the best conversation I had in months.  I gave him a few tips on how to promote his new site and business through social media and I gained a bit of wisdom, perspective, and inspiration through listening to his stories about the last twenty years of his career.

You never know who you might meet.  I realize now that the social isolation I have resigned myself to is perhaps doing me more harm than good.  I need to meet new people to build up my network and to find like minded people just for the sake of conversation if nothing else.  After Christmas I will try to go out for a drink or two at least once a week and try to meet as many people as I can.  If my finances allow I’ll join a new pool team or dart team too.  I also have this idea to start some sort of group for entrepreneurs that has been rolling around in my head for some time.  Perhaps I’ll finally pursue that as well.

We all have read stories about the eccentric and determined entrepreneurs who literally live in their office and do nothing but work around the clock to create the next big internet start-up.  That type of commitment is inspiring but I would argue that for most entrepreneurs it is not the best path.  What was I thinking I could create a social media marketing business without being social myself?

Monday

After working two doubles over the weekend I fell behind on keeping up with all my social media.  My goals for the day were to catch up, post some content, prospect a dozen local businesses by checking out their facebook pages, and if I had time left over I was going to improve Digital Whale’s facebook and google +.

Usually my girlfriend works during the day which allows me to fully concentrate on my work.  Today she had the day off and works in the evening like I do.  I got almost nothing done.  I found myself unable to focus…..I was distracted by her beauty….actually I was distracted by her moving all around the tiny apartment, in and out doing laundry, asking me questions about her homework, sitting next to me, then sitting at the counter, then next to me, then at the counter, and blowing her nose every five minutes because her allergies are acting up today.  It took me an hour to get through a 12 page article.  I just about blew up when she pulled out the vaccum.

She was just trying to do chores that needed to be done but I was frustrated that I couldn’t get anything done.  It started as a discussion but turned into an argument.  Not a shouting match, we rarely do that, just both of us getting more frustrated that we can’t get done what we want to get done.

The reason I am writing about this is because the people closest to you cannot fully understand the rigid self-discipline and unwavering focus it takes to build a successful business unless they have done it themselves.  They will at times create more obstacles for you, albeit unknowingly, but it is ultimately up to you to do what it takes to get the job done.  At the end of the day, I have no one to blame but myself for my lack of productivity and I know my girlfriend supports me.

So much for today. At least I managed to catch up and post this.  Time to go to work.