Before starting Samson Media I had been a public relations video producer for over 20 years. It was around 1995 that I became enamored by the Internet. As a hobby, I had started a website based on my dog called the Adventures of Lucy The Wonder Dog. This side hustle (working full time and commuting into New York City every day) quickly morphed into an ecommerce business selling pet supplies through a Yahoo! Shopping site that I built.
Anyone who operates an ecommerce business knows that the competition is brutal and the margins in the pet business are small. 20-40% gross margins on most items were normal. It was a volume business And once you included shipping costs, storage, labor, packing supplies, it brought net profits to razor thin margins of 10-25%. Sometimes less.
So fast forward about nine years when people started asking me to create an email newsletter or a banner ad for them and paying me $200 or more, where I got to keep the whole amount for a couple of hours work, I quickly saw the economic light. I was getting paid for my time and expertise, not making $4 on a $12 bag of dog treats.
I eventually sold the pet business through a business broker at the end of 2005 and formed Samson Media, LLC in January of 2006. A real business was born!
Samson Media now services around 20-30 active clients a month from New York to California with several one-off projects folded in every month.
Here are eight things that I’ve learned about running a successful business that I want to share with you:
FOLLOW YOUR PASSION
To paraphrase the saying that if you follow your passion you’ll never work a day in your life may be a bit simplistic. Yes, while my interest in the Internet started as a hobby it quickly because a business. So while it’s not all fun and games (far from it) it is my passion for website design, generating website traffic and helping other people build their businesses that sustains me. If you start a business strictly to make money you will fizzle out sooner than later. And not only will your passion sustain you through the tough times it will help grow your business because other people want to hire and work with people who are passionate and enthusiastic about what they do. Passion (assuming expertise and competency) will go a long way to GROWING your own business and attracting people to work with you.Passion (assuming expertise and competency) will go a long way to GROWING your own business and attracting people to work with you. Click To Tweet
The first business book I read when I started Samson Media was The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This book was where I learned about “working ON your business, and not IN your business.” The takeaway message that I learned and took to heart early was that you only have 24 hours in a day. So if all you do is sell your time for money you will be capped out at charging an hourly rate times 24 hours assuming you never eat, sleep or do anything else. You can see the problem there, right? So the first thing any business owner has to do to grow and work ON their business, is to leverage their time by delegating to others. Such a simple principle but one that underpins everything I do and every decision I make every single day. While I might like to create graphics or writing a blog post for a client I have to resist the urge to do everything myself. Even if it might seem faster or easier or less expensive, which it is not. It’s a mirage. An illusion. As Mr. Gerber strongly emphasizes: replace yourself at every turn.The first thing any business owner has to do to grow and work ON their business, is to leverage their time by delegating to others. Click To Tweet
SELL YOUR EXPERTISE AS A PRODUCT
People pay to have their problems solved. When someone buys a lawnmower they aren’t just buying a lawnmower they are buying short grass. You’re heard the expression: “Sell the benefits not the features?” Same thing here. Your knowledge and expertise is valuable! Sell your knowledge and expertise to solve the problem. Sure, you can include any relevant credentials, certifications, degrees or testimonials that enhance and support who you are as an expert. But don’t lead with those things because unless you can communicate your ability to solve their problem — nobody cares! But if you truly have expertise in a certain area, whether it’s helping someone defend a lawsuit or training their dog, don’t be afraid to package it and charge for it. From your clients perspective, always keep in mind: WIIFM (What’s in it for me).
That’s why it’s a great idea to turn your expertise or services into a product. That’s the key to the whole thing. If you’re a career coach, for example, create 6, 8 and 12 session packages. An architect? Create different packages to create custom renderings that you charge for and offer to deduct the price of the renderings from the project if they move forward. But whatever you do, don’t give them away!
NOTHING WRONG WITH EASY
I know some people that feel guilty about charging for services that they perceive as easy. But just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone else. And that has value! Sure, we can set up and create an email newsletter in 20-30 minutes. Build a webpage in even less time. Make a website update in 5-10 minutes. Does that mean we should give those services away? Absolutely not. That’s not to say we don’t do favors for our existing clients or even past clients by doing simple tasks from time to time but as a rule, we charge for everything. Time is money (see delegate above). That’s why we’re still in business over 12 years after we started because their is no shame in making a profit that enables you to earn a living, improve your services, offer customer service, pay your employees and be around when someone needs you.
Develop strategic alliances with complimentary businesses, even competitors. By providing discounted or white label services to other businesses you are helping these other businesses better service their clients. For example, some of our best alliance partners are in the website design area, where we work with them to provide Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services. Yes, we both build websites, but we specialize in SEO more than many design-only firms. If we do a good job of SEO for our competitor’s website client, the client is happy, the original website design firm looks like a hero and we hopefully get more SEO work. It also goes without saying that we would never, and have never, pilfered a partners client, because I sincerely believe there’s enough business out their for everyone, plus it would be very short sighted. Plus, it’s just bad karma. I would rather get just a piece of SEO business from a website competitor with the goal of doing a good job so we get another and another and another SEO job. Why kill the Golden Goose?
ASK FOR HELP
You can’t run a business alone and you certainly can’t do it in a vacuum. Especially when it comes to solving problems. Because we build websites and deal with hosting, code, SEO and Google, we naturally come up against problems we can’t immediately solve . When possible, we lean on tech support, but dealing with Facebook, for example, tech support or any type of customer support is virtually non-existent. So recently when we were trying to figure out something with the Facebook ad manager that was unavailable in online documentation, I reached out to someone on my LinkedIn network that I really didn’t know who came up in a search for “Facebook consultant,” and she kindly got on the phone with me and in 5 minutes totally answered my question. Not only did she chalk up good Karma points but I have referred her business as a result.
I also post to LinkedIn groups and Facebook groups that I belong to with questions and I also call other website developers, past freelancers and even clients when I think they can help me solve a problem. People like to be asked, and want to be helpful. Assuming you don’t abuse it. But the people in my network, and most people, I think, enjoy being helpful. And I’m not talking about the time-sucking “let me pick your brain” scenario. This is specific questions around something you know they know.
And on a related note, I also belong to a peer advisory group, sometimes called a Mastermind group or a business roundtable to share issues with other business owners. Very, very, very helpful.
But the people in my network, and most people, I think, enjoy being helpful. And I’m not talking about the time-sucking “let me pick your brain” scenario. This is specific questions around something you know they know.
DITCH PROBLEM CLIENTS
We’ve all had them. The clients that suck up a disproportionate amount of your time. You hesitate to pick up the phone when you see their name in caller ID. They may even be nasty, or completely clueless or just very needy. They might be hard to please despite your best efforts and whatever they are paying you is just not worth it.
Well, I can tell you from experience that I’ve probably fired about 5 clients over the last 12 years. And by fired, I mean bowing out gracefully, making some excuse why we can’t continue and cutting my losses. I wrestle with trying to find someone to replace me because I don’t want to dump them on someone else that I like and respect, unless I prepare the recipient of the problem client and they still want to be introduced. Then fine. But either way, I try not to burn any bridges, so telling them I got a conflicting account or don’t have enough time due to new or growing commitments usually suffices. I’ll usually give them a free week of services or give them a discount on their remaining invoice.
But the sense of relief can be palpable and in every single case, I’ve gone onto find someone better, who meshes with what we do, appreciates our work and treats us like partners. Frankly, at this stage of my career, I really only work with people that I like to work with. A luxury for some perhaps, especially if you are just starting out, but I’m telling you, every time we did it, that door would close and a new door would open up. .
VALUE YOUR TEAM
Because our staff is mostly freelance and we all work virtually, trust and communication are critical. I like to be the type of boss I would want to work for. Being appreciative of work well done, having a sense of humor and paying promptly are the cornerstones I try and build a business around. I once had a boss who told me after I had completed a tough job very successfully, “Good. That’s what I pay you for.” Not exactly positive motivation. Many of my team, although freelancers, have been with me for 3,4, 5 years and more. The fact that they can walk away at any time but choose to continue working with me and Samson Media is testament enough. Taking care of my team translates to taking care of my clients.
My only regrets about starting a business are that I didn’t do it sooner. While every day brings challenges, it also brings new opportunities. Every day is an opportunity to hit a home run . But singles and doubles are OK, too. And sometimes just staying in the game, on your own terms, and playing by your own rules is the greatest reward of all.As a business owner, sometimes just staying in the game, on your own terms, and playing by your own rules, is the greatest reward of all. Click To Tweet