Browsing Tag

Business

Blog

Focusing On The Small Wins

Focusing On The Small Wins

Everybody wants to get rich and it has to happen today. If you look at social media, people are either living the good life or in shambles. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between these days. Though 2017 has been a tough year for me both physically and emotionally, I am choosing to focus on the small wins.

I love discussing life and it’s various pursuits with people. I have met a lot of driven people in my life. I have also met a lot of people who are obviously stuck in a rut. How do I know they are stuck in a rut? I only recognize a rut because I have been stuck in too many to count.

One bit of advice I have received over and over again is to focus on one thing that I am good at and give it 100% of my effort. To me, that would mean choosing one thing and focus on doing that better than anyone else. While that seems like simple advice to follow, it has not been that easy for me. You see, I have a problem with sitting still. I don’t have the ability to focus on just one thing. I have tried. It just doesn’t work for me. My brain is not wired in that way, and yes I know that you can rewire your brain. I just don’t know if I really want to in that way.

I have often measured my success by the big tangible wins. The first year I marketed myself as a wedding photographer I booked 32 weddings. That was a big tangible win. In 2008 I started a website reviewing smartphone apps and technology. That website quickly became a huge win that lasted for several years. It’s easy to see those wins because they are big and they change your life for the time being.

What I have ignored is the small wins and today that changes. The small wins are what I believe really define us. The small wins are what give us daily contentment. Looking back on this year, I realize that all I have had is small wins. There were no big wins this year. There really haven’t been any big wins for a few years, and I notice that in my emotional health.

While big wins are great, they take a lot of time and hard work. There is nothing wrong with big wins, but big wins can be lonely. On the way to a big win is a lot of doubt. The path to a big win is a tough path that you often do alone. Few people understand that path and can relate to it.

I have been at it long enough to know what it takes to make a big win happen, the problem is that I am not willing to sacrifice everything in order to get to the next big win. I am at a point where in order to make a big win happen I would have to subtract a lot from something else. I am completely fine with that. I don’t need another big win to define myself by. I watch people chase big wins every day and most of them never reach them. They jump between big win opportunities never giving them the time to become anything.

I have a couple of projects that I am working on that could be big wins if I stopped everything and focused on one of them. The problem is that I don’t really want to stop everything and focus on one single thing. While I might be able to see a huge growth in success in one of those things if it was my only focus, I don’t want to let go of the other things. I enjoy these projects and I want to continue on them. I also enjoy my business and do not want to sacrifice that for short-term success in one of these projects.

I have a long game but I am also focusing on my short game. You can’t ignore one or the other. You need to focus on the future and what that is going to look like but you have to make time for the small wins and celebrate them. You can’t jump from opportunity to opportunity, you have to invest time and effort to see a return.

If you are young, it is much easier to focus on the big wins that come with the investment of time and effort. In some areas, I have succeeded in this way. In others, I have fallen short. I have always invested in learning and exploring. That has never led me astray.

For now, I am going to be better about acknowledging the small wins and celebrating them. Small wins add up to a big win over time. I didn’t give some of the small wins of this year the appreciation they deserved. I don’t see any big wins happening in 2018, but you never know when something small shows opportunity to become something big.

What were some of your small wins this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Blog Income

My September 2017 Side Income Report

September 2017 Side Income Report

I have certainly let time get away from me this year. I mean, I meet all of my deadlines and don’t miss anything at work, but the goals I make for myself often get put off. My goal of reporting my monthly side income finances is one of those goals that quickly got put on the back burner.

I know we are supposed to be talking about September but October was a crazy month for me. I had two jobs out of state which took up just about two full weeks of the month. Both jobs were on the east coast. I felt it in my productivity and my ability to create content that would assist in my goal of increasing my side income.

With that said, a few things took place in September that was notable.

Toward the end of the month, I hired someone to assist with editing video. This part-time position was created to help us catch up on all of the video content we had filmed but had not yet edited. We had about 30 or so videos in the backlog. I will talk more about the progress here in Octobers post.

I am approaching some major milestones on Youtube. From here on out I will include subscriber counts to the YouTube channels and the increasing percentage as well. Though this report is about income and income is usually referred to in dollars, I also will be paying attention to reach. At this phase, I would prefer an increase in reach over income.

September 2017 side income total – $2446.50 (-17.56%)

YouTube

  • StateOfTech – $909.62 (+17.42%) Subscribers: 19314 (+5%)
    This YouTube channel is part mobile technology review videos and part tech tutorial videos.
  • Ditch Auto – $349.52 (+1.77%) Subscribers: 17227 (+6.04)
    This YouTube channel is similar to StateOfTech but for Photography. The videos that perform well are reviews and tutorials.
  • Jerad Hill – $32.62 (-2.51%) Subscribers: 4569 (+0.41%)
    This is my personal channel which I do not post too often. I do plan to do a lot more on my personal channel in the near future. I am just trying to decide what I want my focus to be there.

Amazon Affiliate

  • Amazon Product Links – $527.77 (-47.31%)
    With August being back to school, it makes sense that these numbers would be higher. The majority of the product links I have out there are for technology and camera equipment. We have not put out much content that includes product links so I don’t expect much growth here until Christmas shopping begins.

Google Adsense

  • Google Adsense links/display – $108.97 (-7.41%)
    I cut some of the fat on a couple of my websites which will initially produce a decrease in traffic. I deleted a lot of content that I did not feel was relevant anymore. Many of these pages would generate a click or two here and there from organic search, but I deleted it all so that the search engines could focus on crawling quality content.

Udemy.Com

  • Paid courses on Udemy – $0 (-100%)
    I only have one paid course currently and that course is getting old. It needs to be refreshed. I have plans later this month to get new courses out that will be paid and to revise a couple of my existing courses to drive some return traffic to my instructor page.

Other Income

  • Other monthly revenue streams from side work – $518 (-23.28%)
    I turned off a couple of sources of this other income that I did not plan to maintain any longer. These sources really only brought in $20-75 per source and took an average of 3 hours per source. Not a good return on invested time, so they are gone.

I like the color red on a car, not on income statements. I have not looked at the numbers for October yet but I am sure they won’t look much better. Unfortunately, I just have not had the time to spend on much. Unless I cut back somewhere, there is no room left for growth. This is why I have started removing some of the items that consumed a small bit of my time. Removing, even more, will allow for more time on my side projects.

October is going to tell a similar story as to September. I battled with not posting September or October at all, but that would not paint a very fair picture of reality. The reality is that sometimes I start things and don’t have the time I thought I would have. I often get into trouble in this way. I am learning that it has to do with some fear that I carry that stems from a need for security. It’s not completely unhealthy, but there have been times I have missed opportunities because I chose security over risk.

One last thing of note: Both of my brothers have now entered the realms of the self-employed. My middle brother bought a truck and started his own mobile diesel repair business. My youngest brother was doing some sales for a solar company and saw a need for solar panel cleaning. One of them is full-time self-employed and the other is on his way there. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Stay tuned for October’s numbers. I know I didn’t provide much hype, but I will be posting them soon.

Thanks for reading. If you want to connect, shoot me an email or contact me through social media. I enjoy connecting with others on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Check out August 2017 financials.

Blog

Learning to Ask For Help

Asking For Help

I have written many posts and filmed many videos about how to do a variety of different things from learning to use a camera to fixing a hacked website. Giving back to the internet community that has given me so much is very important to me. I enjoy helping others. However, working for yourself can be quite lonely at times, so can being a husband and a parent.

This year I have had to ask for help in a variety of different ways. I have had to ask for help with work, with parenting, and with my marriage. It has been a tough year. I fought asking for help up until this point and I am still working on why that was the case.

It’s easy to travel the path alone, especially with so much information at our fingertips. We can carve our own path using information and insight from others who have gone before us. The problem is that we often end up implementing that information incorrectly or not having the complete picture. Think about the Pinterest perfect recipe you downloaded that resulted in a direct hit to your confidence level as a novice chef. We take the information made available but lack the years of experience needed to pull it off.

In working with clients, I have found that when I lack information to perform a task for them, asking for help or assistance is the best option. Some people fake it until they figure it out. I prefer asking for the information needed. Other areas in life I have not been good at asking for help. I have not asked for much if any help with my business, my marriage, and with my kids. I have relied on information gathered from books, blogs, or podcasts. Gathering information from sources such as those is not wrong, but you often don’t have the right context to implement it. Sometimes it lines up and works perfectly, most of the time it seems like something out of right field.

Growing up I always felt that I needed to fight to overcome any weakness others saw in me. I was ok at sports, not the best, but not the worst. Most of my family did not see me as the child most likely to succeed. My grades in school were average. I already felt that I was at a disadvantage so asking for help made me feel like I was showing my weakness.

Most believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I definitely did, and at times I still do. Asking for help, however, is a sign of humility. Often humility feels like weakness because it requires letting others in. The truth is that it takes a lot of courage to ask for help when you need it.

The other issue with our world today is that it is easy to make it seem like you have it all figured out. We handcraft our social media feeds to show a carefully curated life of success and good times. It is easy to believe that you are alone in your struggles, which is so far from the truth. I believe this is why dramatic television shows are popular. These tv shows are displaying real struggles that we can relate to and since we are not relating on a personal level with good friends, we find our acceptance in tv instead.

The path I started on this year is far from over. I am working on being better at asking for help when I need it and on building up a personal network of people that can be more than superficial friends. This was not modeled for me growing up so it has been and will continue to be hard work for me.

There is no valor in taking on unnecessary pain in life. We were put on this Earth together to be in community. My generation is the first generation where our network is not the people in our neighborhood, meaning we do not have people close to us that are literally close to us. When you are having a tough time with something, ask for help. The resources are limitless and I believe people are yearning for it more than ever.

What are your thoughts on asking for help? Do you have a good network of people around you that you can go to or that can go to you when they need help?

Blog Income

Going Public With My Financials

Going Public with my Financials

Over my years as a self-employed, I have always had some kind of work on the side that I have maintained. When I started in Photography, that was my side business. I started earning a few hundred extra dollars each month from side photography jobs and that continued to grow fast. When I started designing websites, it was a side business but in 2005 I made it my full-time business.

In 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, I started another side business reviewing apps. Years later that turned into a technology review YouTube channel which I still run (very much on the side) today. I mostly review and produce tips/tricks videos for technology that I use or purchase for work.

In 2014 I filmed a photography course which I put online for free. A year later I started a YouTube channel and started producing content around photography as well. The photography course took off and at the time I am writing this, has over 240,000 students that have taken the course. Unfortunately, I did not provide much follow up to that course to generate any revenue, but I have attempted to gather emails and engage with some of the students through a Facebook group.

I always have to be working on something. I spend the majority of my day focusing on creating for my clients. I pour a lot of thought and effort into their projects, but I still desire to work on something of my own, which is why I keep a couple of things going at all times.

In an attempt to be more accountable to my side projects I am going to start challenging myself to give some extra time to those projects. As my side projects produce more income, I can afford to work on them more. At this point, I am only able to work on them once I have completed all of my client work. That leaves enough time to work on them, but not really create on the level I really want to be at with these projects. That might require adding someone to my team who’s job is to help with the creation of the content I want to be producing. This will take more revenue.

I’m going public with my financials

Ok, so I am kind of going public with my financials. I am going to be sharing a monthly post that breaks down where all of my side income is coming from and how it’s growing. I am doing this because if it is not growing, change needs to happen, and this will help me visualize it. This will also keep the fire lit under my butt because who wants to read financial reports on something that is not growing. This will start out very rudimentary, but I hope to evolve it into something fun to look at and read. This has been something I have wanted to do for quite some time, but have not due to not having time to make it look awesome. NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO LOOK AWESOME JERAD! Ok, so it would be nice if it did, but for now, it’s just going to be a list.

I am not posting this information to show off or come across like I am bragging about success in any way. I am posting this information to be accountable and to show that you can earn enough money on the side to afford to take your family on vacation or put money into savings. The goal is not to be rich, the goal is to be comfortable and to have the freedom to choose my work.

To get started, I am going to post what August of 2017 looked like. I will explain what each of these items is in short and will post about them more in length at a later time. I plan to have revenue goals and reach goals as well. Reach goals will be around subscriber count, new students, and sign-ups.

My side income comes from a few different locations online. I am going to list everything that I plan to grow. Know that there are some small side income streams that I do not care to grow anymore so I will bunch those together into an “other” category which is where old side income revenue streams will go to die. The numbers below are gross revenue. In future months I will try to list expenses associated to having earned that income. Currently, I have some overhead that is shared between Hill Media Group and these side projects so some of the income reported below also has to pay for a portion of the overhead.

Current side income total – $2,967.69

YouTube:

  • StateOfTech – $774.62
    This YouTube channel is part mobile technology review videos and part tech tutorial videos.
  • Ditch Auto – $347.75
    This YouTube channel is similar to StateOfTech but for Photography. The videos that perform well are reviews and tutorials.
  • Jerad Hill – $33.46
    This is my personal channel which I do not post too often. I do plan to do a lot more on my personal channel in the near future. I am just trying to decide what I want my focus to be there.

Amazon Affiliate:

  • Amazon Product Links – $1,001.61
    These are a bit hard to track because I have one Affiliate account that has links spread across a couple of websites and YouTube channels. Typically, if I am not making new videos, I see a major dip in revenue from Amazon Affiliate links.

Google Adsense:

  • Google Adsense links/display – $117.69
    Adsense links are also a little hard to track because I am using one account to manage ads placed on a few different sites and I have not yet segmented out those ads so I can see which are performing well and which are not. This is an area for growth for sure.

Udemy.Com

  • Paid courses on Udemy – $17.36
    Most of my courses are free. My goal was to produce free courses and then have a paid course as the next step. The problem is that I never produced any of those paid courses. I have one course that gets one or two new sign ups each month producing a tiny revenue but I list it here because I plan to grow this.

Other

  • Other monthly revenue streams from side work – $675.20
    I will elaborate more on this “other” category in the future. This amount is nothing to be upset about and some of you will wonder why I am not trying to grow it. This section represents income from about 8 different locations and it will take a lot of work to continue to grow it.

I do have other monthly revenue streams such as the income earned from Hill Media Group and my Photography work. My main work is what pays the bills. The goal here is to increase my monthly revenue from my side projects and eventually try to narrow my focus. As I mentioned before, the purpose of this post is to be public about my side work financials for accountability and to keep me motivated. I do hope that this information motivates others as well. This is very much side work for me. Some months I put 20 or so hours into this, other months it’s less. If I devoted a bit more time and focus to these projects, I would see substantial growth, and that is the goal here.

In sharing this information, what is something you are currently doing on the side? Are you earning any income from it and would you want to if you could? I would love to hear your thoughts or comments below.

Blog

50/50

50/50 Self Generated Income Goal

If you went 50/50 on something instead of just 100% on one thing, how could that change your life?

This may be a weird statement coming from a person who is self-employed, but my goal for 2017 is to transform my income stream. My goal is that by the end of the year, at least 50% of it will come from self-generated projects or products. This means that at least half of the income I earn this year needs to come from projects or products that I have generated, not from client work.

You see, since I started this journey as a self-employed person, I have made my income doing work for other people. Whether designing websites for businesses or photographing weddings, I am doing work that I was hired to do by someone else who had a need. I may own my own business, but I am working for others.

There is nothing wrong with doing work for other people. Our country runs on the trade of services for dollars. Ultimately, I want to get to the place where the majority of my income is generated from products and services I have created. I have spent the last 19 years of my life pouring my energy into the projects of others. I would moonlight occasionally on my own projects and have had some success with a few of them, but they always ended up on the backburner because client work paid faster.

So how do I plan to transform my income stream this year? Glad you asked.

I have a couple of projects that I will be working on a lot this year in an attempt to tip the scale toward self-generated income. A couple of these projects are still in the conceptual stage and I am not ready to share much about them. The other projects are already live and I will pour into them even more this year.

The first project is Ditch Auto. Four years ago, I filmed a course to help people get out of auto mode on their cameras so they could unlock the true potential of their cameras which are found in manual mode. Pro photographers use manual mode to properly expose and capture the image they see rather than the image the camera sees. I filmed this course in a day and did not anticipate it growing into a thriving photography community. Today, over 125,000 people have taken the course and we have a pretty active Facebook Group as well. Starting the beginning of this year, we launched a weekly photography challenge, which kicked off strong and is growing larger each week.

My plans for Ditch Auto this year include the modernization of the original course, creating additional courses, and growing the community to help people grow as photographers whether they want to be in business as a photographer, or enjoy it as a hobby.

The second project is State of Tech: In 2007 I started a blog where I reviewed iPhone Apps. Over the years that turned into a podcast that diversified into a variety of different mobile technologies. The last 10 years in the mobile tech space has taught me that many people still do not understand the technology they are walking around with each day. State of Tech has a small, but growing online community on Youtube and I intend to grow that following through the production of valuable content. State of Tech will also expand into a variety of educational courses geared toward helping people better understand and use their smart devices. I believe that Ditch Auto has more promise as far as generating an income goes, but there is a huge gap in educating people on mobile technology.

Project #3 is not a product that is going to help me meet or exceed my goal as mentioned above, but it will eventually contribute to my bottom line.

As I mentioned before, I have spent the majority of my adult life doing creative work for others. During that time, there are many tools and services I have become a professional in using. A few years ago, I started to work towards shifting the income stream of my company Hill Media Group. For years I was doing project-based work for a fixed fee. Once the project ended, I was paid and I had to find a new project. I still do a lot of project-based work, but about 25% of Hill Media Group’s income comes from ongoing work we do for our clients.

I realized that we are really good at handling tasks for our clients. When our clients deliver a clear task to us, we often can turn it around for them in a short period of time. The relationship we have with our clients that retain our services on a monthly basis makes it easy for us to prioritize their tasks and get them done.

Project #3 will be a new company that specializes in handling a variety of digital tasks for small businesses and organizations. I am partnering with a long-term employee and friend of mine to launch this. I am really excited about the concept and have already begun developing the infrastructure needed to manage this new startup company.

Growth through actual products, not affiliate marketing.

It’s not that hard to create a ton of average content and link to products to generate income. Nobody will make much money doing that. If you want to generate income from affiliate marketing you have to create fantastic content and a lot of it. While there is nothing wrong with generating revenue from affiliates, I prefer to generate content to market my own products.

I have had some limited success in affiliate marketing. When the Hoverboard was new and exciting, I filmed a review of my Hoverboard for State of Tech and the Amazon Affiliate link generated between $1,800-$2,500 for several months until Amazon removed all of them from their inventory. What I learned from that experience was that your affiliate income stream is only as good as the product. Technology changes quickly, and fads move even faster than technology does. It takes a lot of effort to stay ahead of the curve to assure you always growing.

Why do I need my income to be self-generated?

I’ll say it again: There is nothing wrong with doing work for other people. The products and products I want to create will be consumed or used by other people, but there is a difference. The effort I am putting into my projects and products are generated from ideas and inspirations that I had. I saw a need and created something. These projects and products will be for others to consume, but they will be something that I saw from conception to delivery. If it succeeds, it will be because I saw the problem and executed on a solution. If it fails, it will be a lesson in which I can not direct a complaint at anyone but myself. I need that kind of challenge in my life. It will be an exercise in generating more control over my destiny by executing on my own ideas instead of focusing on others. It sounds like a selfish move, but it’s really not. I will do more good this way.

For years I have also had a desire to share my financials publically. I used to be held down by debt and seemed to always be carrying a balance somewhere. Whether it was car payments or credit card debt, I had it, and somehow justified it. These days I try to keep my family as close to debt free as possible. Though it is not always possible (yet), we are closer than ever. I plan to share some of my financial information as it pertains to achieving the goal mentioned above. Stay tuned for more information on that.

Goals!

Shortly after turning 30 and having a few kids, I made this list of things I wanted to achieve over the next few decades. I called it my challenge list and I have not done a very good job of working on achieving those challenges. Now I could give myself the benefit of the doubt and blame it on being a busy business owner, husband, and father, but I’m not going to do that. The whole idea behind this list was that I would attempt to achieve some of these things while maintaining the life I am living. No excuses. So in 2017, I am going to start crossing off some of the challenges from the list. I encourage you to check back often and if I seem to be slacking, please call me out on social media.

A Challenge

My main goal for 2017 is to slide the revenue scale away from client-based work to my own projects and products. If you could slide the scale away from 100% and closer to 50/50, what would that look like, and how would it change your life? I’m not just talking about income, but anything. Perhaps you want to change your diet or travel more. How can you slide the scale toward doing that more?

If you could, take a moment to think about that. If you have a thought or an idea, share it in the comment section below! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for sticking around to the end of this post. If you want to follow along as I work toward my goal, make sure to follow me on social media. You can find the links on this page.

Blog

I Almost Shut It All Down!

I have been self-employed since I was 18 years old. I went full time self-employed when I was 21. Perfect timing considering that it was 2001 and two months after I quit my job to go full time after my business the biggest attack on American soil ever took place.

Since then I have had my share of setbacks as an entrepreneur, and a lot has changed in my life. When I quit my job and went full time into my business, I did not have any responsibilities. I lived on my own, so I had rent and a car payment, but that was it. If I ate ramen three meals a day because I had to put out money to order more product, I did it. I started my business with $2,500 in inventory and grew it in less than four years to a business that grossed $1.5 million in sales. In 2003 I was shipping products internationally from orders that came through my website when most companies were just learning what a website was. It was fun, but it wasn’t what I saw myself doing for the rest of my life.

My online business taught me more than just how to run an online business. Through that process, I taught myself how to code and that set me up for my next business venture as a web developer. Though I have had a few other ventures since such as Photography and running a Tech News and Review website, website design and development has been my constant since 2005.

In 2008 I had a rough year. The economy was down, and nobody was spending money. Businesses were cutting back on marketing expenses and Brides were spending less on wedding photography. I almost took a job with a company in Southern California handling search engine optimization for a large corporation. I stuck it out, and the market returned.

It has not been easy running a business and trying to grow that business. I have had some success, but it has been matched by frustration and some failure as well. Nothing has come easy.

During the slow days of 2008, I started reviewing iPhone Apps on a blog I set up and that turned into a business that generated an average of $13,000/mo over the course of six years with the best month earning me $32,000. It was pretty amazing.

Web Development started to pick back up in 2013, and I started focusing more heavily on what I knew would carry me over the long haul as a business owner. The app review site had garnered a ton of competition, and I could tell I would need to focus my attention elsewhere after that.

I have always found it necessary to reinvest in my company. If I am not reinvesting in myself and my business, I am stagnant. The revenues from the app review site allowed me to do this more freely. This was also a challenging time for me as I had started growing my family in 2010 and by the end of 2013 had three children. Yes, three kids in three years.

Now I love people, and I love my clients, but not all clients are easy to work for. I am very thankful that I have had more good clients than bad ones. The problem with bad clients is that they suck the life out of you and leave you beaten on the side of the road. I have always taken my work seriously and being that I don’t have a traditional education to fall back on, I always took myself very serious as well. Bad clients can make you question yourself and your core competencies. Like finding out that your significant other doesn’t love you anymore, it makes you question yourself and your self-worth. It’s hard not to get emotional about business when it’s your work and your business you are putting out there. I have never been able to believe anyone who says they can completely separate business from personal life. Business is personal. I do not trust anyone who does not take their business personally.

As I mentioned before, I have celebrated plenty of little wins in business, but I have also taken quite a few jabs to the ribs both from clients and from the logistical aspects of running a business. I have a wife and three kids. We don’t own a home, not because we don’t want to, but simply because it is very challenging for a self-employed person to purchase a home. We are a single income household by choice. We made the decision to provide our children with a Christian education. We are considering adoption.

I am closer to my 40’s than my 20’s, and my personal responsibilities will only continue to grow. My goal since closing my retail shop and starting web agency was to provide myself with more freedom. Running my shop, the online store, and a small parts distribution center was time-consuming. I found myself working 14+ hour days. I closed my store on Mondays simply so I could catch up without customers coming through the door. I knew that I could not live that way if I was to get married and start a family, so I shut that down. I pivoted in my life toward something that offered me more freedom, and since then, freedom has been my goal.

My professional life has allowed me a lot of freedom. Those that have known me since I started having children know just how much time off I have been able to take to be with my family. At the time of writing this, I currently work a regular 8-5 day, but I am working every day to change that to provide myself and my family more freedom.

About a month ago I was offered an opportunity to work for a fast growing company in my area. I always recognized that if I were going to quit working for myself, I would probably have to move to the Bay Area or Los Angeles to find a company that could afford someone with my skillset. The idea of working for someone else was desirable to me because it was something constant. There is not much in my life that is consistent other than the needs of my family and my clients. The concept of money getting deposited into my bank account every two weeks and only having one client to deal with sounded great.

Over the course of three weeks, I was all over the place. I was all for the job one moment and then the next I was totally against it. I was a wreck. I constantly prayed over the opportunity. I knew that if I took this job, I would not have time to run my business any longer. I didn’t want to run my business on the side while working full time. I was not going to let my work cut into the time I wanted to spend with my wife and kids. Whether I worked for myself, or another company, freedom still had to be my guiding cause.

If there were any time during the year that a consistent income would be welcome, it would be the holidays. I think anybody can relate to that. Being that my business does the majority of its business with other businesses, holidays are notoriously slow. Nobody wants to start designing and roll out a website or a new online marketing plan in December. Most of our clients are small businesses, and they are focused on the holidays. Turning down the job offer was very hard to do going into the holiday season.

Ultimately, I decided not to take the job because I have not yet had the time to flesh out all of the ideas I believe have a lot of promise. I often get too busy to work on my ideas because I am focused on my clients, but I never stop thinking and dreaming. If I wanted to start working on one of my ideas, I could by simply cutting back on client work. If I was working for another company, I would have to be all about that company during work hours. To moonlight on other ideas while on the clock would be giving less than 100% to the company I was working for. I am not ready to turn off that part of my brain, and I am not going to divert that energy to time I am at home with my family.

I am not going to say that this is the last time I will consider taking a job, but I can honestly say that it is the closest I have come to working full time for someone else. I work for myself, but I have clients whom I work for as well. My clients have expectations of me just as an employer would have. People often comment on how nice it must be to be my own boss. I explain that it is nice to be my own boss, but I also have a dozen clients I have to answer to as well, so it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.

Another thing this opportunity has given me is a renewed drive to grow my business. I can not honestly say which direction I will point all of this renewed energy, but I do have a renewed focus and am excited about the future.

Who knows what will happen with Trump in office, but the last almost decade has brought more regulation and difficulty to small business owners than ever before in the history of our country. Regardless, challenging and uncertain times are often some of the best to start a new business. I am blessed to have been able to direct my own professional direction for the last 15 years of my life and I am not quite ready to give that up, even if the opportunity is great.

I have had job offers from other clients in the past, but I appreciate this one the most because I believe in the company and it’s potential. Even if I had taken the job, my life as an entrepreneur wouldn’t have been over; it simply would have been paused. I am looking forward to finishing this year strong and focusing on new things in 2017.

Blog

How Did I Get Here?

Do you ever stop mid task and ask yourself how you got to where you are in that moment? I have had that happen to me a few times over the last few months. Since moving out of my home office in 2011 I feel like I have been chasing after too many things. When I worked from home and was only responsible for my own wellbeing I could do whatever work I felt was right in the moment. As long as it resulted in getting paid for my time, I was ok with it. Now having tried to scale a couple of things with a roller coaster ride of limited success, I have been finding it hard to focus lately.

Lately I have felt like my own worst enemy. I have taken focus off of a few long-term projects that have not been producing as much fruit as they once were but still allowing myself to be distracted by some of the aspects of those projects. In my mid twenties, I was good at limiting distractions. I had laser focus, but it had to be that way. I was so busy with the company I was running at that time that I had to pull late nights and work 7-days-a-week to keep up. Somehow I was fine with that. Busy is easy because you can see what needs to be done. When you are busy, the work comes at you and you can take it on full force. The real struggle is when you are caught in between busy and slow. That middle ground can be dangerous and it has been eating away at me like a cancer for the last year.

I have some great clients. We have been blessed with clients that have fun products and they trust us to do the work they hired us to do. At the same time we have had a few stinkers that have made it hard for us to do our work. It is all part of being in business. Over the last year specifically, we have had steady work from regular clients and a small amount of growth, but nothing that has stretched us too thin. Being in this place is what allows my mind enough energy to dream but does not leave me with enough time to execute on any of those dreams. I have always been a dreamer and often find myself laying in bed at midnight considering a new idea. Late night thought sessions as I lay in bed is what led me to at one point having owned more than 350 domain names. I have my own representative at GoDaddy who calls me from the office of the CEO. That might be some marketing ploy to make me feel important but I do know that I own way too many domain names. Every domain name was purchased because of some idea I was mulling over in my head. Most of those domain names never made it past a GoDaddy Parked page and expire a year later.

When I was 18 and almost out of high school, I was utilizing everything I had some knowledge in to make money. Besides working in retail management at the local mall, I was building computers for people, setting up small office networks, and trying to start an online business selling cell phones and accessories. I was going in too many directions. I found myself prioritizing what I enjoyed doing the most. The retail job was a constant paycheck. Building computers was fun, but being available for any and all questions that my customers had was not. I enjoyed setting up small office networks but when AOL didn’t load fast enough, I got a call. It was an early lesson in doing too many things at once. Now almost 20 years later, I am having the same problem. 

As I have written about before, I started building websites to give myself more freedom. The business I was running prior to that was taking too much time and was not going to scale unless I could clone myself. I started a photography business to fund my desire to buy new camera lenses but that quickly turned into a business more profitable than my website design business was at the time. During my later twenties, having both businesses was nice. I was single for a few of those years with plenty of time to work when needed. After marrying, my wife worked on some weekends so shooting weddings on weekends was not a big deal. After we started having kids, I wanted more weekends available, which meant shooting less weddings. Having moved out of my home office, one of my goals was to grow my website design company as well. I have had some measurable success there but I have allowed myself to be distracted a lot along the way which has stifled growth of Hill Media Group.

Running your own business is very emotional. Some people refer to their business as one of their kids because it is that close to them. I have always been able to work for myself and stay motivated. Motivation has never been the problem. The problem has been allowing myself to get stuck because of decisions I have made or allowed myself to be distracted by. Let’s take a quick inventory of what I currently do or offer as a service. Some of these services are related and this definitely is not an exhaustive list. What follows is a list of services that I offer and deliver on at least once each week in one form or another. This list also includes jobs performed to maintain our own projects and websites at Hill Media Group.

  • Website Design
  • Custom Development/Programming
  • Website Hosting
  • Email (Google Apps for Work)
  • Google Adwords (Paid Search Marketing)
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Social Media Management
  • Social Media Marketing (Paid Social)
  • Website Technical Support
  • Project Management
  • Data Management
  • Commercial Photography
  • Wedding Photography
  • Photo Editing
  • Video Production
  • Wedding Video Production
  • Video Editing
  • Product Testing
  • Product Reviews
  • Editorial Writing

I will have to come back to this list. I know there is more. This list does not include tasks required to run a business, nurture new and potential clients, manage employees, and whatever else I can’t seem to think of at this hour. Some of the above listed jobs I share responsibility with employees and occasionally outsource from time to time, but for the most part, I have my hand in all of those things. I recognize that I am not a top level professional in all of those areas but I am a professional in each of them to the extent that I believe I could focus on any one of them specifically and make a good living. The problem is allowing myself to do that.

It’s hard to avoid doing everything that I have a professional understanding of because there are so many people out there offering substandard service in just one area. In online marketing, there are a lot of scam artists out there who might as well be selling snake oil. Companies take advantage of naive business owners who simply want a professional to handle their online marketing for them. When you know that you can offer a better service and more value, it’s hard to just not do it.

This leads me back to the question, “How Did I Get Here?”

Just about all of these services I offer came from me needing them as a service from myself. I taught myself how to build Google Adwords Campaigns that perform using my own money attempting to market my own businesses. Though this article is all over the place, I developed my writing style from years of writing. My formal education stops just above high school level. I taught myself how to film product reviews by making videos and striving to improve along the way. Where I have led myself astray is that I turn that knowledge into a service and make it available to others.

When you turn something into a service you are stating that it is available for anybody. When I offered my website design skills for sale, I had to build websites for anybody who wanted one. When I started filming projects for clients I needed more gear, so I started offering those services to anyone. Hill Media Group has become this agency that has the knowledge and tools to be a full service agency handling everything from website design to film production but we don’t do end up doing enough of most of those services to justify the costs associated with them. What I mean is that we have everything we need because we have invested in the tools we need to produce quality work. The problem is that some of those tools end up collecting dust because we are not focusing on that specific area of business enough. People have short films in festivals and own less equipment than we have. 

All of the services that my company offers are services that I enjoy spending time working on. There are so many cool things out there and so few hours to get to spend doing them. What I truly enjoy is learning something and deploying it. It really doesn’t matter if I am doing it for myself or for someone else. I just enjoy the journey. But I do understand that specializing in a smaller subset of things leads to being better at them. This goes not only for me, but for those who work for me. Most people get bogged down when they are jumping between multiple unrelated tasks. It’s impossible to get into a grove when you don’t know where you will be next.

I have already started making changes to limit what types of work we do and will offer. I removed a once very profitable offering from one of our websites because it has been more of a distraction over the past several months. I plan to make more changes this year as I attempt to discover what areas I would like to specialize in and cull the rest from our offered services. About a year ago I started selling off some of my equipment I use for video production projects and simply rent the gear when I need it. I am already doing the same with my photography equipment. I simply don’t do enough volume to justify having all of the equipment I have. I love having the latest and greatest equipment, but I can no longer justify owning all of it.

I am thankful for this clarity I have been praying I would receive for over a year now. Sometimes you end up down a rabbit hole and are not quite sure just how you got there. Working for yourself or being an entrepreneur is a constant lesson in understanding your strengths and recognizing your limits. I am looking forward to further clarity as I continue to remove things from my work life that have stretched me too thin. I love my business, but I love my family more. Anything that takes away from that is theft in my opinion. Allowing myself to go in too many different directions has robbed my family of my focus and attention. Narrowing my scope will be better for everybody involved. When I stopped building computers for people I referred them to another local business. I look forward to doing that with some of the services I have provided in the past. Sometimes you have to cut the fat, which leads me to a blog post I really need to write about being more healthy.

Blog

Taking a Big Leap

When I was 20 years old, I decided to take a break from my education and working towards a rather recent goal of pursuing a career in some form of medicine. I had been working in retail management and was not content with corporate retail. I really wanted to start my own business and try things for myself. I had an attempted businesses several times since I was 16 years old. My first small success being an online cell phone and accessories company. However, this time, it would be different because I would be attempting to open a physical store with actual inventory.

I opened my store with $4000 to my name. I use that $4000 to pay first, last, and deposit for the building I would lease. I used to that same money to buy inventory, display cases, and supplies I would need to be able to sell products to customers. It took a lot to spread out the inventory that I had in an attempt to make the store look full. To kick things off, I have the local rock radio station come due a ticket stop and giveaway in front of my store. I believe that the only reason people came inside was due to the fact it was raining outside.

My brother and one of his friends were into gas powered scooters and we’re always complaining that there was nowhere to buy parts or have their scooters repaired. You may remember these noisy scooters that were very popular from 2000 to 2005. That was the sound of money for me until a law was passed making it impossible for kids under the age of 16 to ride them on the street.

One of my first purchases for inventory was one of these scooters. I actually bought one and took it apart so that I would have parts to sell. Timing seems to be on my side because these gas powered scooters would keep my business alive for the next year.

Using my limited website development skills I had obtained from building my first online business, I built a website for my new store. The main products I sold online were these gas powered scooters and parts. That holiday season, I would sell between 15 to 20 scooters each day. At this point, I was buying scooters from a distributor in Southern California. I would climb in a small cargo van and drive to LA to pick up scooters because I needed them faster than they could be shipped.

Weeks later I would place a $18,000 initial order direct with the factory. For the next few months, I would drive to the factory, which thankfully was only an hour away, to pick up truck loads of scooters for my online customers who had already purchased them.

I quickly added other services that were complementary to owning one of the scooters. My store quickly became a repair shop. The owners of the building we were renting were not impressed. This resulted in me having to move my shop to another location in the midst of trying to keep up with the demand of our customers online orders. This meant an increase in overhead expenses.

Each step along the way of this business was a leap. Starting it was a leap. Placing that initial order of scooters was a leap. Moving to a more expensive location was a leap. Hiring employees was a leap. The entire process of owning a business is often a series of leaps. Some are small, some are quite large.

When I decided to start this business I told myself that now was the time because I was young and could easily bounce back. At age 20, it’s not a big deal if you have to scrape yourself off the floor and move back in with Mom for a while. I realized it would be much more challenging to start a business if I had a family of my own.

In 2004, I saw the writing on the wall. I knew that a law would soon prevent kids from riding these scooters on the street and most who owned them would either sell them or put them away forever. I would either have to pivot my business, or try something new. I decided it was time to try something new. I closed my business, sold all of my inventory, and started developing websites for small businesses.

These last few years, I have been putting some of my time into online education. It has been a lot of fun because I have been able to teach people about things I enjoy doing. This last year I have realized that I would really like to shift more of my time toward creating educational content. I realize that this is going to require a shift in the way I currently spend my time.

Creating education content is hard work and requires a lot of time. Creating educational content has been extremely fulfilling to me. I have spent years working and perfecting my process for different aspects of my work as a photographer and website designer. It is fun to be able to teach those processes to others.

Twenty-year-old me would make the full leap into educational content, but thirty-six-year-old me knows that he has responsibilities. Because of that, I will be working on both as I have time. I have clients who I have committed time to and I want to see their projects through. I also have my educational website that I am working on when I have extra time. As we complete client projects, it will free up more of my time to work on the new site. When I get closer to its completion, I will make sure to share about it on my blog.

At this point in my life, I realize that I am a career entrepreneur. Though the idea of getting a job with a company for the quintessential “security” sounds great, I prefer the series of strategic leaps in life. I think that deep inside most of us, we want to leap. We want to try something different or go after an idea. For many, it stays a dream. The fear of failure is too much for some. I have found that failure is an excellent teaching tool that better prepares me for the next thing. I am sixteen years into working solely for myself, and I have yet to hit that home run that would result in an early retirement. I have hit a lot of singles, even a few doubles, but I have struck out more times than I can count. I have also hit a lot of pop flies out to deep left field only to have them caught just short of the fence line.

If I could encourage you to do one thing, it would be to take a leap. Your first leap doesn’t have to be across a raging river of risk. A short leap could be starting that blog you always wanted to put out there. It could be taking your photography hobby to the next level by trying to get a paying client. We live in a world where you can build a business from home using an iPad while watching Storage Wars on Netflix, which is literally what I have been doing these last few weeks. It’s pretty crazy what we can do these days.

In the coming months, I will be creating courses on how to start a business. Whether you desire to start a small blog about your hobby or plan to replace your income with an online venture, my video courses will help you be as ready as possible to take that first leap.

If you are interested in learning more, click here and enter your email.

Blog

In Search of Success & Freedom

I have written on the topic of personal freedom many times. Since my early 20’s, my ultimate goal has been to work toward achieving freedom from the regular things that end up tying us down. I have had success and failure along the way through my efforts to achieve personal freedom and have learned a lot along the way. We moved across town this weekend and through that process, I spent a lot of time in the car with my father-in-law. We discussed work and life, which ultimately led to a discussion of basic life securities.

My father-in-law is a hard worker. He recently retired from many years of service to the same company. Though he is not old, or quite at retirement age to draw from social security, it was time for him to move on. Being that he and I are from exact opposite ends of the workforce spectrum, we occasionally discuss the topic of work and all that comes with it. Though he does not have any direct experience as a business owner, he recognizes the role differences between his jobs and my job.

Over the years, I have received job offers, usually from clients I have worked with. There have been a few years where business was slow and I actually looked around at what was available. I have never entertained anything to this point, but sometimes the concept most people refer to as “job security” is fun to fantasize about.

During our discussion, he brought up a few of my complaints I have had over the years such as rising healthcare costs for my family, taxes, and the challenges the self-employed have purchasing a home since the housing market crash. That led to discussing the various job offers I have received over the years. To most, the solution to my “first-world-business-owner-problems” would be to get a job where I had health benefits and a w2. I understand that perspective. Beyond that, most people would assume that a business owner can’t just turn off the work mindset at the end of the day. Society typically portrays business owners one of two ways:

  1. The Tyrant: This is the business owner who sits in his office all day counting money as his employees slave away for low pay.
  2. The Founder: This business owner works near 24/7 giving themselves little sleep and even less time to their family.

Through the many conversations I have had with people, most see business owners as one or the other. Media and the startup business community considers long hours as a requirement for being successful. There are popular online personalities such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Casey Neistat who broadcast a perceived lifestyle of working 14+ hour days. Whether that is the case or not, that simply is not healthy and should not be honored as a lifestyle to follow in the footsteps of.

If you are going to own or start a business, the mindset is that you are going to have to work extremely hard up front, in order to have success later. This makes sense as it’s the only way most people can wrap their head around rising to success. Before I talk about success to much more, I want to be clear that success means something different to everybody. My definition of success is different than yours, and that is ok. Besides being a business owner, I am a husband and father to three children. I see my wife and children as my most cherished worldly possessions, so that is the lens in which I focus my life through.

I want to be able to exist with the basic comforts we expect to have here in the United States. I need a home in a safe neighborhood with walls that has heating and air conditioning. I need a reliable vehicle and food to eat. I need clothing that is in decent condition and a few dollars left over to buy the occasional piece of technology. What I do not need is excess. I did excess for a couple of years in my early 20’s and it did not lead to happiness or contentment. At age 24, I was making more money than I have ever made to date with my retail business, but I was spending all of it. I was also working long hours. I have discussed this before in other posts.

My definition of success has changed over the years. It used to be all about money. I was a kid and had no real concept of what contentment was. My current definition of success is to be able to provide a decent life for my wife and children. Not a life where they get whatever they want, but a life where I can provide basic comforts and securities, without going overboard. I have been blessed with the ability to do that so far.

My definition of total personal freedom will also change, but right now the definition and goal is to one day be able to self-sustain financially. That means that the work I have done so far is producing enough income to cover our life expenses for a while without having to do more work. Some call this retirement, but I don’t really like the definition most people give retirement. Most people see retirement as the end of the line where they do not have to work or use their brain for much anymore. I plan to follow in my Grandmother’s footsteps and use my brain to the best of its ability until I take my final breath. Of course, I could work extra hard now in order to obtain self-sustainability much earlier, but at what cost?

It is important to have a clearly defined understanding of what being successful means to you. If you do not have that understanding, you will never reach a level of success you can feel comfortable with. I know plenty of people who make more money than I do and even more who have a dual income household. I know people who work twice as many hours as I do, and I know people who barely work what would be considered part-time, yet still make more money than I do. None of that affects how I feel about what I have or haven’t achieved yet in life.

It is easy to think that if I just worked two more hours each day, I could take an extra vacation or afford to have a bigger house, but what would that do to my freedom? I am not the best at it, but I try to weigh each decision I make that requires my time against what it would cost my family. That puts things into perspective quickly. I see time away from my family as a deficit regardless of what the result of that time produces.

Getting a job with a company would not necessarily make me feel any more secure or provide me with any additional freedoms. Having paid vacation might make it easier to take one vacation, but if you set it up right, owning your own business gives you the flexibility to take multiple vacations and occasionally work from them if need be. It’s getting harder to do that now that I have kids in school, but we still try. The photo above was taken a few years ago when we went to Del Mar on vacation. I worked while our kids napped and we spent the rest of the time at the beach (Look how chubby Cohen was!!).

For me, reaching total freedom does not mean never having to work again. That would actually be torture. My brain does not operate that way as I am always trying to solve problems and come up with solutions. Beyond that, I never tire of learning about new things. Whether I am working for myself, someone else, or in partnership with someone else, all must align with my defined goals of freedom and success. Anything short of that would lead to confusion and frustration.

The reality of it is that there is no true freedom from everything. We will always have obligations and requirements. People will always expect something from us. However, if you have a personalized definition of what freedom is to you and what being successful is, you will more easily be able to obtain it. As a side effect, you will also prevent the endless chase that comes from nothing ever being enough.

What would your definition of a successful person be? Are you working toward reaching that level of success? What do you consider “true freedom” to be? Are you working toward reaching that level of freedom?