SOBCon09 Session 5, With Terry Starbucker and Jeff Willinger

( — I’m at SOBCon09 in Chicago with @lizstrauss and @starbucker. I’m taking notes as people talk, so there will be typos; deal with it. Now I’m checking out Terry Starbucker (@starbucker) and Jeff Willinger (Right Point Consulting), who are helping us out with the back end of online businesses. Administration, bookkeeping, general business knowhow. Finally — the balance between the creative side and the back office side.

Too many businesses fail because the best idea people are not good on the back end. If you can afford to hire an accountant, hire one. If you can afford to hire a lawyer, hire one. There’s more to it than just the creative side and the product; you have to have those other bases covered.

“I love rollercoasters, but I don’t want to be on one as a business owner.” – Jeff Willinger.

“At the end of the day, if you can get those P’s and Q’s together, you’ll find that you will have time.” – Terry Starbucker. You have to keep records. You have to keep books. Even just the simple thing of having a bank account. Do you have one? You can’t be so focused on the thing itself that you don’t think about the other stuff that HAS to be right to the point that the top side won’t matter if you don’t do it.

QuickBooks Pro actually changed Jeff’s life. So did TweetDeck. He goes to a lot of networking events, but thinks that if you use TweetDeck and social media in general properly, it’s scary how much business you can get. A Twitter conversation can lead to an old-fashioned e-mail, which leads to an even older-fashioned phone conversation. His thing is SharePoint, so he tracks SP conversations using Twitter Search via TD and starts conversations.”You have to comb it; you have to be religious about it.” Be a hunter.

This stuff is all about discipline.

“In life, you go for the lowest-hanging fruit. What is the easiest thing for me to do, and go for that. Two things: It’s gotta be fun, and it’s gotta add to the W2 at the end of the year.” – Jeff

“If you don’t know what’s in your bank account to the penny at least every other day, you’re not managing your business very well.” – Terry

Put together a budget: projected revenues versus projected expenses. What do you have to bring in? Most people are focused on the revenue, but on the other hand, you have to sit down and really honestly take a look and ask what this is really going to cost you.

In the startups, it’s the classic thing. These conceptual people get things going and it gets wildly out of control, and they have to bring in “the business people” to be the CEO and make it sustainable. Learn from othe rpeople’s experiences and mistakes. There are a lot of books and ohter materials out there. You can’t learn enough about the ins and outs of running a business. Especially if you’re a creative business person, know what you’re getting into and protect what you’re creating as voraciously as you possibly can.

Advice from the audience: Keep a list of everything you do. Anything you don’t absolutely love, outsource it.

Business plans have become something of a cliche, but they really do help. And they’re a necessity if you want to raise funds for your business. What is your product, who’s your audience, what assets you’ll need, and what kind of deficit you’ll run. For Jeff, it was like a new level of clarity for him when he wrote his business plan.

Audience question: How do you quantify the time you spend THINKING about things? Audience answer: Take your billable hours. Find a percentage. Tack it on automatically to cover your thinking-in-the-shower-or-while-driving time that you may not necessarily have dedicated to that client officially. It will help you go from losing money to being profitable because so many people forget about that gap and don’t compensate them for their admin or creative thinking time.

Sometimes you just need some kind of assistant. Not all of us can be that organized or stay on task or stay on schedule. Identify your weak point, and just be honest with yourself. Whatever you put off, that’s what you should outsource. Admit what you hate to do, and find someone who LOVES to do it.

Consultancies are so tough because it’s hard to value your time. How many clients is enough? How many clients is too many? How much is your time worth? The problem is when the quality of your work and your product declines because you say yes too much. When that client calls and you don’t get back to them for 24 hours because you’re putting out so many other fires, man, you’re burning some bridges there.

Don’t go too low. Don’t cheapen yourself. Your fee is your fee. Preparing an ROI for the client will make a big difference, and you need to know how to speak the client’s language. Part of discipline is doing exhaustive research on your clients and your potential clients.(Jeff recommends Jigsaw.) Be where people will value you, and be confident about what you have.

It all comes back down to discipline and preparation. Good advice: Time up front is time saved in the end.

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