Jason Resnick: For a feast or famine cycle, until you feel the punch in the gut, you’ve never hit the famine. By “Punch in the gut,” I mean, you’ve got your stack of your monthly bills on your desk, and you’re looking at that and trying to say, “Do I keep the internet on and forego groceries? Or do I go get ramen noodle, and I pay the bare-bones minimum to keep the lights on?”
Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 150 and season 8 of How I Built It. This year, 2020, the show will focus heavily on freelancers and small business owners like you. To kick things off, I’m talking to a longtime freelancer and educator, his name is Jason Resnick, and we’ve known each other online for a few years, but as you’ll come to learn during the show we just met. That was the first time we spoke face to face. He is the founder of the Feast Community and Live in the Feast podcast. Today he’s going to tell you how to set yourself up to prevent the dreaded famine that often comes with freelance work. We talk about niching down, vetting clients, and so much more. Jason’s wealth of knowledge is fantastic. I’m excited to have him kick things off because he’s going to set a lot of things up in this episode that we’re going to dig even deeper on throughout the rest of the season. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the first episode of season 8. Episode 150, Preventing the Famine with Jason Resnick.
Break: Hey everybody. Before we get started, I want to tell you about my online membership and community creator courses. I know that when you want to learn something new, the natural thing you probably do is go to Google or YouTube. I do the same thing, and that’s great for one-off projects. I used a YouTube video to learn how to change a light switch in my house, but I am not a big fan of YouTube for learning new skills. Because there are lots of videos on every topic, but “Which one is best and who do you trust? What order do you even watch the videos in, and will you get the support you need?” These are all things that YouTube or other potentially free videos can’t do for you. So, I started Creator Courses a few years ago with the idea of just putting online courses out there, and I decided to morph it into a membership last year. So stop wasting your time hunting and pecking for the right learning resources and tools, over at Creator Courses. You can become a member and take all of the courses that we have to offer included in that membership, and those courses focus on everything from just basic WordPress up to learning how to build websites without code, something you don’t necessarily need to do in this day and age. All of the courses are developed by me, and if you listen regularly, you know that I’ve been a developer for decades at this point, and I have lots of experience building websites. I’m a teacher at heart, and I’ve created courses for LinkedIn Learning and things like that. On top of the courses, we’re also a community, and members get access to forums and Slack and office hours with me, so I just wanted to let you know about that and encourage you to join if you haven’t already. Listeners of this show, exclusively for listeners of the show, you can save 15% on all memberships, including the lifetime membership. All you have to do is visit CreatorCourses.com/build. Thanks so much, now let’s get on with the show.
Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” In 2020, I am focusing on you. The freelancer, the small business owner, the person who is thinking, “How do I grow my business?” Partially because I am also thinking about that, but my guest today is going to help us with block one. My guest is Jason Resnick, and he is the founder and owner of Rezzz. He’s a work from home dad, a dev, and a marketer of humans. Jason, thanks for joining me today.
Jason: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Joe: My pleasure. We were just talking before the show about how we’ve been around each other on the internet, but we’ve never actually had a conversation in real life or via video. So, this is– We’re meeting “For the first time,” which is pretty cool.
Jason: Yeah. It’s like a pen pal back in the day, we’ve known each other for years, we’ve just never had that face to face. This is awesome.
Joe: Yeah, this is cool. I thought you were a perfect fit for this because you also have a podcast around feast or famine and a course as well? Or, a training? Maybe you could tell people who you are and what you do, so I don’t stumble through that.
Jason: Sure, yeah. As you said, I have a podcast. It’s called Live in the Feast, and it’s definitely in line with what we’re going to talk about today. It’s all about helping other developers and designers, marketers, writers, and freelance types live in the feast. It’s a seasonal podcast that tackles a theme for each individual season, so season 6 was pricing. Each episode deep-dived on a pricing strategy tactic and so on and so forth. Season 7, which we’re in currently, is the ideal client. We’re learning in the service world that the customer avatar exercises that give you those demographical type characteristics of somebody, it doesn’t work all that well. I brought on a whole bunch of other people that are much smarter than me that dive into how they discovered their ideal client and exercises that they went through, and so on and so forth. That’s Live in the Feast, that’s my podcast, and I also do coaching and mentoring. I have a program called Feast, which is a community and resource hub for developers and designers that are looking to build a sustainable business through specialization and building predictable income. That’s a real long sentence for, “I’m giving you everything that I’ve done for my business for the past nine and a half years, and a lot of that is word of mouth and organic-type exercises.” We’ll probably dive into some of that today, but it’s a community where it’s not just a course. There’s that course element, but every single month we have roundup calls, so the whole community comes together in a Zoom chat, and we talk and chit chat and talk about topics and scenarios, and things like that. We do virtual co-working sessions, so there’s a definite community aspect to it where it’s more than just the course. The course is there, but there’s community aspects that are a little different. We do sales role play calls so that people can improve their sales calls and discovery calls, and things like that. I built it out of people were asking me about it, like this is about 18 months now that I’ve done this now, and two I wish this was here when I started back in 2010. There was nothing like that there, and “How can I help people really that are just a few steps behind me on the same path?”
Joe: That’s awesome. I think I might steal some of this stuff for my membership, because honestly what you said– Like, I have a bunch of courses, but people aren’t necessarily going to want to be a member just to have access to all these courses, they could just buy the course and have it. But building that community aspect and the role-playing sales calls is a really good idea, so that’s super cool. It sounds like you’ve learned from experience, and generally, I ask people when they’re building their business or their product “What kind of research did you do?” But I feel like you and I are in the same boat in that a lot of what we’ve learned from our freelance or small business career is stuff that we learned through experience. Is that a fair characterization?
Jason: Yeah, I try to either– Most of the stuff that I’ve learned is by my own “Failures,” but it’s also trying to learn from those people that are a few steps ahead of me, too. That’s why I built Feast in the way that I did, the vast majority of the community that is in Feast are people that have been doing this for 3 years or so. They’re not necessarily still in the cubes while we still have those people in there, but the vast majority are few steps behind. So I always look at any sort of opportunity where I can learn from somebody else, and I know you know who he is, Troy Dean, I’ve talked to him for years now. Matt Medeiros, so many other people that have– Yes, they’re in the WordPress base, but they have business experience from other areas of their lives and such. To be able to learn from their experiences and having conversations and just not necessarily even a context of a coaching/mentor relationship. It’s just, “In conversation, he shared this story that–” Just being perceptive of things that I’m hearing, especially because I work from home. I don’t have somebody else next to me that I could just go to lunch with. While I’m working from home and having conversations, it’s a matter of just being perceptive and listening and being empathetic to that other person, so that maybe if I start approaching the same scenario that they’re running into that, I’m not going to fall into that same pitfall, if you will.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic point, and I think you might have alluded to this too, part of the reason that I would consider my podcast a success even if it just cost me money all the time– I’m lucky enough that my show is sponsored and it’s definitely not costing me anything. Even if it did, though, even if I never made a dime off the podcast, I would consider it a win because it’s been a master class for me. I’ve had conversations with over 150 people now, and I have learned from them, and I’ve improved my business off of them.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. The podcast for me and this is one of the things that I had learned from both Matt and Troy was that what Troy said one time in a story was that his coach or mentor, I believe it was, said that “In order to become an influencer, you have to have influencers in that space talk about you.” He said, “Then I’ll make a podcast, and I’ll bring on the influencers, and then they will go ahead and share out the podcast that they were on, and so on and so forth.” For me, I didn’t think of it like that when I first started. When I first started my business, I was doing Ruby on Rails, Java Development, custom PHP. I was all over the map, the only reason why I fell into or backed into if you will, WooCommerce, was because I was in the e-commerce space. I’d loved doing that kind of work and working with those people, but what my clients at that time were asking for was– They weren’t like Amazon. They weren’t going to be in their site all day long, every single minute of every single day. They needed something that they could go in once a day or once a week and be able to manage, and things like that. I listened to that, and I said, “WooCommerce.” This was 2012 when I made that decision, and I just was like “OK. I’m planting my flag in WooCommerce.” Luckily, that was the right flag to put at the time because there was plenty of other e-commerce plugins at the time. So I planted my flag there, and then I just created a podcast, if you will. It was a Google Hangouts is what it was, with Bronson Quick. He is Australian, and then, later on, it was Tom Harrigan that we brought in, and we did this irregular podcast. It was once a month, it was a Google Hangout, but we would bring on other people, and we would just geek out about tools and code. I don’t know, it was probably boring for a lot of people, but for us, it was pretty cool, we were planning our flags, if you will, in the space. I got to be known as “The WooCommerce guy.” I would get referrals saying, “So-and-so sent me here, they said ‘You’re the WooCommerce guy.'” When it happened a few times, it was like, “This is pretty cool. This is what Troy was talking about.” I wasn’t trying to be known as a voice in the space, but I was trying to build my business, and while I build my business organically through this podcast, that was irregular. Because time zones and trying to figure out when people were available and stuff, that was hard. Even though I did this thing once a month and we did it for 19 episodes, it broadened my network because we were bringing on other people, and people would hear about the podcast, and we would share it on socials and things like that. My name got out there about WooCommerce because that’s what I was talking about on the show, so it accelerated my growth as far as podcasting goes, and that was my first avenue in “This is marketing,” and I didn’t intend it to be. I thought it was just cool to talk to these guys about geek stuff, so yeah. I’ve obviously done more podcasting, I got two podcasts now and so on and so forth, so for me, with podcasting, I’d much rather pull up a mic and have a conversation with you than write a blog post.
Break: This episode is brought to you by FreshBooks. Do you remember when you started your small business? It was no small feat. It took lots of late nights, early mornings, and the occasional all-nighter. Bottom line, you’ve been insanely busy ever since. So, why not make things easier? My friends at FreshBooks have the solution. FreshBooks invoicing and accounting software is designed specifically for small business owners. It’s simple, intuitive, and keeps you way more organized than a dusty shoebox filled with crumbled receipts. As a side note, I told my accountant the first time that I used the shoebox method, and his face turned white. But in actuality, FreshBooks was one of the first things I bought when I started my business. I’ve been a FreshBooks user since 2009. It’s easily the best accounting and invoice software for small business owners like us. Create and send professional looking invoices in 30 seconds, and then get them paid 2 times faster with automated online payments. Nothing is better than sending out an invoice and getting it paid in the same day, and that’s happened for me with FreshBooks. You can also file expenses even quicker and keep them perfectly organized for tax time, and the best part is that FreshBooks grows alongside your business so you’ll always have the tools you need when you need them without ever having to learn the ins and outs of accounting. Now there are a lot of features on this list I have here to talk about, but I’m going to pick two of my favorites. The first is late payment reminders, and they are clutch. It’s one less thing that I need to worry about when making sure I get paid. I don’t have to keep track of exactly when I sent the invoice, and if I already sent a follow-up email or whether or not they viewed the email, all of that is taken care of inside FreshBooks. The other feature I like is the automated expenses. I connect my business credit card to FreshBooks, and my expenses automatically get imported. They are all there, ready for me and my accountant to review. It makes tax time easier for both of us, and it’s no secret that I love automation. These two features make my life a lot easier. After doing things by hand, FreshBooks is worth the price of admission just for those two things. Join the 24 million people who have used FreshBooks, and you can try it for 30 days for free. No catch, no credit card required. Go to FreshBooks.com/BuiltIt and enter “How I Built It” in the “How did you hear about us?” section to get started. Thanks so much to FreshBooks for supporting the show, and now let’s get back to it.
Joe: I’m going to humblebrag here for a minute because it just happened this week as we record, but my show has been downloaded over a million times now, which is insane.
Jason: Nice, congrats.
Joe: Thank you. I know it’s because I got those influencers early on, like Chris Coyer and Troy Dean, who were both on the show within the first fifteen episodes, and they shared it to their audiences. I think I found the right people at the right time who were learning along with me. A quick lesson before we get into the feast and famine stuff, I had a lot of– In the last season, towards the end of last season, I had a lot of CEOs and multi-million dollar companies and venture capital, and I enjoyed those conversations for what they were. I think I personally learned a lot, I think there were good nuggets in there, but they didn’t perform as well as say, me interviewing Allie Nimmons who’s a freelancer or Michelle Schulp because they are relatable to the audience. That is incredibly important, to me and to the people listening, they want to know what’s next. They want to know who’s three or four steps ahead of them, so I think that having a podcast with the right content with the right people is absolutely important for that. Speaking of being a few steps ahead, I think we’ve both lived through the feast and the famine. I can predict– I’ve switched industries in the last couple of years. Not industries, but niches within the industry. I’m a front end developer, I have a masters in software engineering, but I’ve been doing more content creation courses and podcasts, videos for hire and stuff like that. But while I was doing development, I always knew that the famine for me was between November, Black Friday-ish through like mid-January. Nobody was spending money because they were too busy trying to make money. It’s a little different now, and I think the famine is in the summer now because people are gearing up for sponsorship money and their content budgets, so they’re willing to spend around now. But anyway, my point is that no matter where you are in your business, you’re going to be super busy sometimes and super slow at other times. Maybe we could start off with, how would you define feast and famine, and a quick overview of how do you handle each?
Jason: Sure. How I define feast or famine, to your point, yes. End of year as a developer, that was always when budgets run out. Like, “Alright. We’ll just coast into next year, and we’re done.” I’ve heard, and I haven’t experienced it myself so much, but I think it makes sense, summertime does seem to be a lull nowadays because I guess people go on vacations, customers, and companies, especially if they are subcontracting out work it makes sense that there’s a little bit of a lull there too. For a feast or famine cycle, until you feel the punch in the gut, you’ve never hit the famine. By “Punch in the gut,” I mean, you’ve got your stack of your monthly bills on your desk, and you’re looking at that and trying to say, “Do I keep the internet on and forego groceries? Or do I go get ramen noodle, and I pay the bare-bones minimum to keep the lights on?” When you come up with that, that’s the punch in the gut where– I was at a point where I hit that. I was like, “OK. The cable bill, I’m trying to make money through the internet, so I need the internet. Maybe I could hold off my landlord for a week,” or whatever. I was at that stage early on, and it was tough, I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, because this was the second time. I was laid off from a consultant agency in the early 2000s when the whole dot com thing exploded in on itself. So I said, “I got a skill. I could do this thing.” Eighteen months later, I was back at a full-time job because I didn’t know a lot of the business side of things. I didn’t know how to handle contracts and marketing and all the rest of it, but what happened was in 2011-2012 I hit that same wall, and I was like “What happened? Maybe this just isn’t for me.” Which was devastating for me because I was getting burned out, and I was like, “I’m not doing something right.” What I found out was I had to look in on myself to figure out what it was that I was doing wrong and right, and everything in between, and double down on what’s working. Stop distracting myself from everything else, so when I was at that point, I basically said– That’s when I found and backed into WooCommerce, I was like, “OK. I’m going to focus in on that because that’s what people are asking me for. What’s working? What’s working is my word of mouth, I’m getting referrals in and that’s where I get the most amount of my work from, for better or worse. You can fine-tune that later, but that’s where I have my attention.” You should try to be growing that word of mouth so that it’s predictable because word of mouth and referrals is everyone’s number one source of leads, but it’s all by chance. 99% of the people out there will say that it just happens, and I wanted to make it predictable. I had to figure out how to do that, and just build out this organic engine. There’s this five pillars of that engine that basically fire on all cylinders, and I can know that I’m going to get anywhere between twelve and sixteen leads every single month coming into my business. I’ve never spent one ad dollar ever, so to avoid that feast or famine, and I just doubled down– Or, to avoid the famine part really, is I double down on what worked. I removed all the distractions like Twitter and Facebook and all the rest of this stuff where you are spending all this time, all countless hours hoping to get that next client that never comes. So, “What’s the point of spending all the time there? Let me double down on the other thing.” That’s how you start to build that foundation, is really to look at what’s working for you. If Twitter, Facebook, and all that is working for you, and I did get clients through those means, but if that’s really what works for you, then go ahead and double down on it. Don’t worry about TikTok and Snapchat and all the rest of it. Just forget that stuff, work over here and work on the things that work, and get that engine fine-tuned for yourself. That will help you build a pipeline because that’s how you avoid those lows, is a pipeline. Because I know I’m going to get those leads coming in. Even on the slow periods, I’m going to get those leads in, and even if it’s really fast and furious and I don’t have any sort of work, and I’m really in the Feast, I could either schedule out projects that come through and say, “There’s a project that’s going to end in two months. I’d be happy to schedule you in if you want to put a deposit down, go ahead and do so.” That also helps with that low period, especially if that low period is on the horizon there. Just really honing in on your network, I refer tons of work to people that I trust and know will do a good job, because I want to be a connector of sorts with leads. Because I don’t know that, they may come back to me, and they do. If I talk to somebody two years ago and I referred them off, and they’d had an awesome experience somewhere else, they still may need the services that I offer later on, and I might have the bandwidth at that time. I want to make sure that I can take care of anybody that comes through.
Joe: I’m going to– Hold on, I’m going to stop you right there because there are three things you said that I want to tease out. First is that just in case TikTok is dead by the time this episode comes out, TikTok was a very popular social network in November of 2019. First, what you said about Twitter totally resonates with me, I used to think that Twitter was the way I would get work and the way I would get sales and members. But it’s not, Twitter is just some transient thing that people read and then forget about, or read and then hate comment and then forget about. So that’s a really good point, “Figure out what’s working for you,” but the other thing you said was– You misspoke here, but I want to make it a general point, “How you avoid the feast and the famine.” Are there times when the feast is too much feast? I read from an article, and I think in The New York Times or The New Yorker, the word “New York” or the term “New York” was in the title. I read that most freelancers don’t die of starvation, they die of drowning because they have too much work. They feel like they have to say “Yes” to everything. You started to talk about it, you have your pipeline, and you know what’s coming. You know what you can handle, and then you schedule two months out. Are your clients agreeable to that, or are they like “I need to do this now?” And if they are, “I need to do this now,” how do you figure that out?
Jason: That it’s not me. I know how much I can handle, and the thing that I always have to go to is, “Why did I start this business in the first place?” I started this business, and this is me personally, I started my business so that I could spend time with my family and spend time with friends, take off on a random Tuesday afternoon because it’s nice outside without having to ask another adult for permission to do so. These are the reasons why. I have pictures of my family on my desk and so on and so forth, so anytime I come up, it’s an amazing opportunity, but I just don’t have the time, I don’t shoehorn them in. I have to say, “No.” That’s just the priority, that’s being a big boy and owning up to it. Yes, some leads and clients are agreeable to it, and others aren’t, and that’s fine. Then I try to help them find the right person that could fit for them, but it’s just knowing for me, it’s knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Then just allowing that to dictate things because for me, I’d much rather spend time with my two sons than coding. There’s no question on where I would rather spend the time, and if me taking on some other client that’s going to make me work until 10:30 at night and miss bedtime and all the dinners and all the rest of it, that’s just not worth it for me.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. That makes perfect sense, knowing what you do and why you’re doing it is so important. “I’m going to make websites because it seems easy,” I heard a dude at a bar say that one time and I was like, “Go for it, man. Definitely do that if you think that.” But when I left my agency job, I said, “I don’t want to miss my daughter’s first steps because I was working late for the company.” So that is my guiding light as well, and saying no to work is hard. Just this week, I said no to a $12-15,000 dollar project, which is decent money, especially because I’m not doing a ton of development work anymore. But it wasn’t the right fit for me, because I’m moving out of that vertical and I want to focus on my products. Even though it was good money if it’s a hundred-hour project, what could I be spending those hundred hours on otherwise? As you start to think about– I’ll just say the general advice that I give people for “Avoiding the feast,” or “Avoiding the famine” is by storing money away during the feast. But what’s your biggest piece of advice? I want to tease out what you said about building the pipeline, how do you figure out who is a good fit for you? Because again, like I said, it’s sometimes hard to say no. Especially if it’s a big fat check.
Jason: Yeah, saying no– It comes easier, though, right? It comes with the confidence that you know that you’re going to be OK. So if you do have that pipeline coming through and you know where the next project could be coming from, and you know, “I’m going to get 10 leads next month. I’m going to get 10 leads next month. I’m going to get 10 leads next month.” Saying “No” today is OK because you know that there’s going to be nine others coming up, and it’s hard to tell somebody that there’s another project right around the corner because I was there. I was like, “This person is ready to pay me. They’re not an ideal fit, and it’s just not what I do. But all right, I need the money now, so I’m going to take it.” I’ve been there, but that was the last straw for me back in 2012 or 2013. I was building a website for a hairstylist who was building an online course for hairstylists, paying me real bottom dollar. I needed the money, and they were looking at me as nothing more than 10 fingers on a keyboard. They were basically dictating lines of code, and they didn’t know code from anything. But I was just like, “I need the money.” I felt miserable. I woke up hating it, like “I got to work on that site today.” Just really, I didn’t feel good at all. For me, from that point forward, was, “How do I only capitalize and work with those people that I do want to work with?” I just sat down and took a look at my client roster, and I analyzed it a little bit. I said, “OK. These are the types of projects that I like to work on, and these are the types of projects that I don’t like to work on. These are the types of people that I like to work with, and these are the types of people that I don’t like to work with.” As I came through this, and this is a framework that I do teach to my coaching clients, but it is just– After you have those two lists, then take a look at it and see what characteristics match 75% of those list items that you took. If you have your list of projects and clients that you like, OK. What’s common across all of those? Then of those, that red-flagged list, those people that you don’t like to work with, what’s common across those? Then now you have your green lights and your red flags, so for a long time, I had my red flags posted on my monitor just so that it was front and center. Because through Zoom, they didn’t see it, but I had it front and center right next to their face. So if there was two– And I’ve learned this from my own experience, is if they hit two of those red flags we’re not working together. I don’t even go for the third strike, anything. I just know it’s just not going to work out, because I’ve gone to the third strike and gone through the project, and it just doesn’t work out as good. It’s not that it’s a bad person or anything like that, it’s just the project wasn’t as successful as it could have been. Just working through that exercise, if you will, will allow you to help start filtering out at a real making the decision for you before you have to make it. Because in business, you can’t make a decision on emotion. When you need money, and you’re looking at your stacks of bills, you’re making decisions based off of emotion, not off of actual logic. I like to be as logical as I can, and if it’s a good fit, then I’d much rather take the next project that’s going to be a good fit then take on this project that because I need the cash or the money, then it’s not going to be a good fit and now I have to pass on the good fit project.
Joe: That’s a ton of fantastic advice. Having that rubric, essentially, of grading your client or a potential client is super important. Because you don’t know until you lay it all out, and this does come with experience. You need to learn how to read people and look for those red flags, and later in the season, I’m going to be talking to Nathan Ingram all about this stuff. But, it’s knowing that stuff. Again, more stuff that I learned from experience. I had a nightmare client who wanted a shop but didn’t want the e-commerce part of it, and then at the 11th hour, he was like, “We need a shopping cart.” I’m like, “It’s going to cost you ten times more,” and he flipped out on me. Luckily I knew, I had logged all my hours, and I’m like, “Here’s how much time that I’ve spent. Because I quoted you a fixed rate, this is how much you’ve already saved based on the hourly rate.” Then he backed off a little bit, but I was like, “Man. I should have known early on when I kept saying, ‘Do you want this? Do you want this?’ And they were super wishy-washy and then sent me their logo in PowerPoint.” I was like, “This is probably a bad fit.” But I was in college, and I didn’t know.
Jason: To your point, though. Even if you just think about personalities, even if you have no clients and you’ve never had a client before on your own, and maybe you’ve done some work in a full-time job or a part-time capacity or something like that. There’s that experience that you can draw on, but even just in your own world, who are the types of people that you like? Just write those down and then try to figure out what question can you ask that could answer and figure out that characteristic? That’s how I try to look at it from the perspective of doing the exercise of figuring out your reds and greens, is that “OK. Now that I know these things, I don’t like being micromanaged, and I don’t like somebody telling me what lines of code to write, so how do I ask–? What question do I ask on the other side of things? Have you worked with other online contractors before?” If they say “No,” OK. If they say “7,” OK. That’s a problem. If you work with one or two, I got it. But if you work with seven, then there’s a problem somewhere.
Joe: It’s easy to take that as– I used to take it as a compliment. “These seven other people didn’t work out, and you’re going to work out.” And then I learn, “It’s not that these seven other people didn’t work out, it’s that they all realized how much of a nightmare you are.”
Jason: Right. Exactly right.
Break: This episode is brought to you by SaneBox. If you asked me to name the single biggest workplace time-waster, I don’t even have to think about it, and the answer is email. In fact, a recent study found that almost 50% of the time managers spend tending to their inboxes is spent on emails that should have never been sent to them or that they didn’t need to answer. What if you could press a magic button and never see those time-wasting emails again? That’s exactly what SaneBox does with just a few clicks. SaneBox automagically gets your email under control and filters out all the messages that don’t need your focus, and you don’t even have to switch email apps because it works in concert with whichever email client you already use. I’ve been using SaneBox for a few months now, and I immediately saw big changes in the way I manage my email. I no longer get distracted by every little thing that comes into the inbox, and I only see the important stuff until I choose to look at other folders. It also has some nifty features like the Sane Black Hole where you can vanquish senders you never want to hear from again. I am unapologetic about that button. Plus, I created my own called Sane Money, where all online orders and banking info goes. So if I need to check in on something I ordered or need to get a tracking number or the latest bank statement, I know exactly where to go. See how SaneBox can magically remove distractions from your inbox with a free two-week trial, visit SaneBox.com/HowIBuilt today to start your free trial and get a $25 dollar credit. Thanks to SaneBox for supporting this show. And now, let’s get back to it.
Joe: I like that. Figure out, if you never worked with a client, ask yourself– Because there are certainly people you don’t like. You and I are from New York, so we probably don’t like more people than most. But the point is that there are definitely things from your personal experience you could pull from to figure out, “How do I figure out what is or is not a good fit for me?” You also mentioned that you do primarily WooCommerce stuff, is niching down a big part of that? And how much should you niche down? Like, I work with small business owners. Is that a good niche? Or, I work with construction workers. That’s the niche that I want to be in. Can you talk a little bit about that as it pertains to feast vs. famine?
Jason: Sure. The thing is when you talk about niching down, it could be as big or as small as needed. The specialization happens when you can verbally say to somebody of a specific type that you help them solve a problem with your solution. Once you can articulate what that is, then you could speak to anybody in that space. Case in point, I help established online business owners get more customers, get repeat customers, and create raving fans. I do that through a tool of WordPress ConvertKit and/or Drip. What I do on the technical end of that is probably really deep and nerdy and everything else to them, but all they care about is getting more customers, getting repeat customers, and creating raving fans of their brand. The nuance to my niche, there is established online businesses, so I deal with e-commerce businesses, and I deal with course creators and coaches. I have nonprofits, and these are established online businesses, meaning I’m not building them a site from scratch. They’re already online, and they have the assets, they know what they know, and they oftentimes don’t know what they don’t know. But they see that there’s traction, they’re making some money, and they’re investing in their business. They’re building a business online, so I’m not building them anything from scratch. I’m just enhancing or building upon what they’ve already built so that they can get to the next level, or bring in pieces of their business that they haven’t done yet, things like that. You want to articulate, “I only need eight clients every single month. I’m on a retainer, and all of my clients are on retainer. Yes, there’s one or two that cycle in and out, maybe on average about every four months or so. But I have long term clients that have been with me for five-plus years, and I only need eight. I know that’s my magic number. My sweet spot, if you will. So, how small of a niche do I have to have?” If there’s eight people out there, there’s eight people out there. There’s plenty of established online businesses. There’s plenty of people running WooCommerce, and there’s plenty of people on ConvertKit and Drip. That’s a big enough market for me to tap into that I could find enough people to sustain me in my business and support my family and so on and so forth. Now, if you happen to find a unicorn somewhere, which I don’t know that exists. If there’s only one person out there, maybe that niche is too small. I don’t know, but when you just say, “I work with small businesses,” I would always encourage that other person to say, “OK. How do you help them? Do you help them–?” You want to figure out what the problem is that they have that you can solve, and you want to be able to articulate it in a way that it makes so much sense to them that they say “Yes. I need that.”
Joe: That’s a great point. And converse to, especially when I was freelancing full time, my wheelhouse was helping people get online. I work with those mom and pop shops who don’t have a website, who want a presence online, and I want to– I ask them, “What’s the main thing you want your website to do for your business?” And then we go from there. Once I launch, not that I never want to talk to them again. That’s not at all the case, but I like continually solving these new problems. So I had my niche in that way, and you mentioned that you only need a clients a month. This is something that you know, and it sounds like you have a productized service. Is that right? Or, is it like–?
Jason: For the most part, yeah. I’ve productized everything around the bespoke service that I have.
Joe: So, you know your offering well. What would you say to somebody who is– Maybe they’re making websites, or they are a front end developer, or they’re a designer, where the projects are less predictable, can we introduce more predictability into their process? Or, maybe we say, “You could take on a new client every six weeks as long as you do these things.” What are some of the things that they can do to know their magic monthly or quarterly number?
Jason: Know the scope. It all comes down to scope. The only reason why I know 8 is my number is because I know how many hours I’m spending on each client, and I only know that because I know exactly what I’m doing for each client. It was something that I struggled with for a long time too, and I’m like, “How do people schedule out things? Because I say it’s going to take six weeks, and then it comes to 8 and 10 and 12, and OK. It is what it is.” That happens when it’s hourly sometimes, but it’s even worse if you’re doing value-based pricing. Then you’re doing it wrong if you will. But it’s narrowing the scope. If you have a well-defined scope at the proposal stage, really iron that out, because then you could always have that to go back on. Because once scope creep starts happening, “We need this, we need that,” and say, “OK. We can do that. It’s going to cost this much, and it’s going to blow out our timeline this much. Is that the priority here?” And leave it up to them. If they’re willing to do that, then fine. But if they’re not, it was their decision to make anyway. I never say “No” for the client. I want them to say, “No.” They can bring all the ideas to the table, but if they don’t really understand what the consequences of that– And maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But I’m going to articulate that to them. I’m going to say, “OK. That’s fine. We can add– We could change the header from the way it looks now to whatever design that you want it to have, that’s fine. It’s going to be another week and a half to do that, and that means we’re going to miss our deadline. It’s a week and a half extra money, extra timeline. If you’re willing to do that, then let’s go ahead and do that, otherwise, let’s stay on topic. Let’s stay on course here.”
Joe: I love that. The scope is such that if you are a freelancer or a small business owner, the scope is your best friend. Have a contract. That’s a whole– I’ll have that discussion later on in the season too, but your contract and your scope is going to be your best friend. Because that’s like Jason said, it’s what you’ll fall back on. What you said reminded me of a book I read a while ago called The Imagineering Way. I’m a huge Disney fan, so Imagineers are the engineers over at Disney. They make the rides and all this other stuff, but they had a chapter in this book called The Imagineering Way called “Yes, if.” It’s just what you said. I never say “No” for the client, and I want them to say “No.” So somebody comes to you with an idea, you don’t say “No, because–” you say “Yes, if–” “Yes, we can add this new feature. If you have X amount of dollars and Y amount of weeks that we can extend this project.” Now I have to fit those y amount of weeks into whatever I’m already doing for other people that I’ve promised, so I think that’s fantastic. We’re coming up on time here, and I think what I would love to do– We’ve talked about a lot, about how to understand your ideal customer a little bit, knowing your scope and extending your network. What are 2-3 takeaways for the listener to improve or prepare for their next famine? I know I’m springing this on you. We didn’t talk about this beforehand, but just a couple of tips for preparing for your next famine.
Jason: Absolutely. Look, it is what it is. Understand your “Why,” why you started your business in the first place. Stay the course with that. That is not going to steer you wrong, that’s your compass. It’s been the compass for me for a decade. If you know that, then all the other decisions are going to be easy enough to make. That’s where I go to. So if there’s a great opportunity, like I’m a Mets fan. If the New York Mets showed up at my front door–
Joe: I’m sorry to hear that. I’m a Yankees fan.
Jason: I know you are, so is my wife. It’s a rough household sometimes during the summer.
Joe: Yeah, a house divided. My wife is a Phillies fan, so I don’t know what to tell you.
Jason: Man, forget it. I couldn’t be married. At least I could deal with a Yankees fan. But nonetheless, for me, if the New York Mets showed up at my door, knocking on my door and said, “We want to work with you, and this is what we’re looking for,” I would say “No.” Because the number of boxes they tick off on the red flag list is gone, so if you know what that is for you that’s going to help you decide that stuff, and it’s going to allow you to stand out in the marketplace for who you want to be working with. Those people are going to find you, and those are the ideal clients that are going to help you build that referral network that you’re going to look for that’s going to give you those predictable leads coming into your business because those are going to be successful projects. Those people surround themselves with other like-minded people, and they say, “Joe, Jason, Jane, Keith. They did awesome work for me. You’ve got to talk to them because they did an amazing job for me.” That’s what you want from a customer, rather than “I’ve got to pay a bill, and this customer they’re happy with what they got, but they’re not going to refer you to nothing because it wasn’t as good as it could be.” That would be my biggest takeaway, it’s all iterative, and you just got to be paying attention to that whole circle, if you will.
Joe: Gotcha. I love that. I think I would add to that, “Be patient. If starting a business was easy, everybody would do it. Or, everybody would continue to be in business,” maybe I should say. It’s a grind, but understanding your why– I’m going to link in the show notes to Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I think that’s a great book, and it reinforces everything, Jason, that you’ve talked about here. I know you gave us a ton of great advice, but I do need to ask my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Jason: Trade secrets? This is a little hack that I got from a friend of mine, Curtis McCale. He says in a sales call if he doesn’t laugh at least three times, he doesn’t work with them.
Joe: I love that.
Jason: I don’t have a hard line metric like that, but I want to make sure that we can gel, and there’s that personality mesh if you will. In a 30 minute call, if we’re stepping on each other’s toes, we’re not going to be a good fit, but if we get each other, there’s a vibe there, and we do laugh at the corny jokes and small chitchat stuff. Awesome. Then things might work out.
Joe: That’s fantastic. I truly love that piece of advice. Awesome. Jason, thank you so much for your time. Where can people find you?
Jason: Yeah. I’m @Rezzz on Twitter, or you can head on over to Rezzz.com.
Joe: All right. Also, with 3 Z’s, correct?
Joe: All right. I will link those things and everything we talked about in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Jason, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Jason: Thanks for having me. This was awesome.
Joe: Thanks so much to Jason for joining us today, to kick things off in season 8. He offered a ton of fantastic advice, but my favorite was how he vets clients. What he said about how he if he doesn’t laugh three times during that initial call, he doesn’t work with them. I think that’s a great litmus test. I think that you should come up with your own litmus test for vetting clients, I certainly have my own. But again, just lots and lots of great advice there. Fantastic way to kick off the year and to kick off season 8. Thank you again to Jason. If you want to find the show notes for this episode, you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/150. Thank you to this week’s sponsors, they are SaneBox and FreshBooks. I’m excited to have both of them as sponsors for this season because those are tools that I use and are integral to my own small business, and I know that you will get a lot of value out of them too. If you liked this episode, please leave us a rating and review over an apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps people discover the show. If you want to learn more about Creator Courses, the membership that I talked about at the top of the show, head over to HowIBuilt.it/tools to get a free guide on five tools you can use to build websites faster. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.