After reading Josh Pigford’s post on the Baremetrics blog last week about his journey from Maker to Manager, I had a flood of memories come to me about the time I’ve spent building WP Site Care, and all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. My role at the company has changed a lot since the early days, and I thought it’d be fun to not only take a look back and where we’ve been, but also to figure out a lesson or two that I’ve learned along the way.
Where it Began
I started to think about how far we’ve really come in just a few short years, and realized that I’ve never even shared our company’s origin story with the world.
Origin stories are generally reserved for superheroes, but why can’t a hip (ok, this could be subjective) and growing brand have an origin story too? The truth is that it can, and I’d like to share ours with you today.
Humble Beginnings, Hold the Krypton
I’ll apologize in advance for all of the terrible puns I’ll be using throughout the post. It’s a cheesy theme, but I’m gonna roll with it, mainly because I can. And because superheroes are pretty awesome.
WP Site Care has been 100% bootstrapped from day 1.
When I left my corporate job in IT, I wanted to build something that I could be happy doing for years down the road, maybe even decades. I was burned out, and I needed a change of pace, so I built up a reasonably large freelance clientele (for me) and set out on my own.
Cash on hand was super limited.
Luckily we had some extra room in our house that I was able to convert into an office, and WP Site Care was officially open for business. My dad and I did all the work to finish the room. No contractors. No nice furniture. No employees. Just me and and a patched together Windows desktop running Notepad++ and a trial version of the Adobe Suite software.
Understanding that the welfare of yourself, or your family, likely depends on your own ability to generate new business while taking care of existing clients can be extremely overwhelming if you let it.
Go slow and stay focused. You can’t solve every problem today. But you can probably solve one problem today. Work on that, and make sure you keep moving. Never stop.
Within 2 months of leaving my corporate job behind, I hit a big milestone. Not only were all of my bills getting paid (HALLELUJAH), I had earned enough extra cash to make my first big business investment.
A $2500 computer probably seems like a silly thing to get excited about. The reality is that computers are just tools, but this computer was different. It would make me more efficient eventually, but way beyond that, it was my first little symbol of business success. I paid for it with cash.
2.5 years later it’s still the computer I use every single day.
Sidekicks are Indispensable
Later that summer I went to my first ever WordCamp, in Orange County, California of all places. Why my first WordCamp wasn’t in Salt Lake City, I’m still not sure. Lucky for me the community in Orange County was so welcoming, and they were quick to welcome me in even though I wasn’t part of the local crew.
I created some relationships there with people who I still consider great friends. I also got this really cool glass:
Not long after coming back from California, things started to get a little bit out of control. I was working 90-100 hours a week and still falling behind. It’s a good problem to have in a new business, but I knew it wasn’t sustainable.
It was time to hire.
This was not something I thought I’d even need to consider in my first 4 months of business. I was fortunate, but how the hell do you even start the hiring process?
Craigslist? (the answer is no)
I created a page on my below average website that said I was looking to hire. I didn’t need a developer necessarily, just someone to help with client communications and some small marketing initiatives. I shared the page on my personal Facebook page, and within a few days I had over 60 applicants.
Sifting through applications was going to become it’s own full time job.
But I got lucky again.
Heather was someone I had known because we both contributed writing to the same website before I started my freelancing career. We didn’t know each other well, but we did know each other. An acquaintance from a former life type of thing.
Just knowing her made her application rise to the top right away (never underestimate the value of getting to know as many people as you can). She seemed cool, and eager to help out, so after one Skype interview I gave her the job.
This was one of the single best decisions I’ve made in business.
Not only was my workload almost immediately lessened, but our customers were happier too. Something about having someone else “on your team” takes some of the mental exhaustion away too. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I know it’s been the case for me.
I’ll admit that I hit the first employee hire jackpot with Heather. But if you think it’s time to hire your first employee, you probably should have done it already. I wish wouldn’t have waited as long as I did.
Every Superhero has a Calling Card
Now that I was responsible for two paychecks instead of one, I wanted to get more aggressive with the growth of the business. All of our business had come from word of mouth previously, but I wanted to start testing some other methods to see if we could bring in new business in other ways too.
This is the first run of stickers that was ever printed for our company.
“Everybody loves stickers,” I thought.
I don’t think I was wrong. Most people do love stickers. Maybe Nazis don’t like stickers, but I digress. This particular batch of stickers was jacked up in more ways than I’d like to admit.
I printed stickers before we even had a brand
I’m not a graphic designer by any means (FAR FROM IT), and a nondescript cross in the center of a forgettable blue square with round corners is probably not the way to go when investing in marketing materials.
I had basically decided that 5 months in to building a micro company, I could exercise the same creative freedoms as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince and just use a random symbol to represent our company. People would just know who we were because of our “strong brand”. LOL.
What a waste of money that was.
Could you imagine Superman having a red Times New Roman “S” stamped on the middle of his blue leotard? It probably wouldn’t have quite the same effect as his shield and emblem does.
The good news is that it didn’t take long for me to realize that our company was in dire need of some real branding and a presence on the web that reflected the type of business I wanted to build.
I was introduce to Brody at Blazer Six (now Cedaro) and before long he had totally transformed the image of our company.
Getting branding right took time. And it was the biggest investment I had made in the business by far up to that point. New branding and a new website design, including the time it takes to build that design ends up being a lot more money than I think most people expect.
But now we have a recognizable brand, and when it comes to pairing that brand with a message, I feel like we’re doing a pretty damn good job of that these days.
Invest in branding early and don’t cut corners.
I’m big on money-saving hacks and not spending when you can avoid it, but branding isn’t the place to try and skimp.
Superheroes Have a Purpose
It seems like every superhero’s origin story gives some insight into why they do what they do. When I first set out to build WP Site Care, my “Why” was to “make more money and do something I enjoy”. That’s a totally valid purpose, and the core of what drives a lot of businesses, but over the years my why has changed pretty dramatically.
I’ve found that money can only be a motivator for so long (for me). I had to look a bit deeper to find out what would keep me hustling even if I someday ended up independently wealth. Aside: I’m not even close to being independently wealthy.
The mission of WP Site Care became twofold:
- Empower small businesses who don’t have huge technology budgets to be competitive. Whether it’s a landscaper, or an accountant, or even a bootstrapped Silicon Valley startup, I wanted to provide a set of products and services that empowers them to grow and business online.
- Do good with with what we have. Supporting worthwhile causes is important to me and the people I work with. So I’ve made it a point to take a portion of our earnings and be generous to the causes and foundations that mean the most to me and my team.
Working with a purpose makes dealing with the lows of running a business a lot easier pill to swallow.
“They don’t pay me enough” can become a true, and all-too-common sentiment if the only thing pulling you out of bed every morning is a paycheck. So do what you can to remedy that as quickly as possible. Find your “why”.
Never Forget How You Got Here
— Ryan D. Sullivan (@ryandonsullivan) July 17, 2015
There are always a few key points in a superhero’s career when they almost didn’t become a full blown superhero. But an understanding civilian helped them out, or they caught a lucky break and ducked into the crowd just before their true identify was revealed.
You’re going to catch some breaks along the way. I’ve caught more than I can count.
There are also going to be key people who give you a leg up, or show you loyalty when you may not deserve it. Remember those individuals. Treat them right, and go out of your way to make sure they know they’re appreciated.
I’ve had employees completely uproot their lives to start over in a new place with a new job, simply because they wanted to grow and believed WP Site Care was the vehicle to help make that happen.
How cool is that?
How humbling is that?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in business, but one area where I really try not to screw up is how I treat people. Without my team, and my amazing wife Jackie, there’s no way that WP Site Care would be the company that it is today. Who knows if it would even exist?
I’d say the most valuable lesson I’ve learned while growing this company is that no process or business plan can replace amazing people. Surround yourself with the best you can find.
How about you?
Are you working on growing a small business? What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way? Does your business have it’s own origin story? If you haven’t written one yet, I’d highly recommend it. It’s good times. If you end up writing one let me know. I’d love to read it!