I’m gonna bare my soul here and tell you a very painful story.
Right now, Work Media is just me. I am Work Media. But if you go back in time about 5 or 6 years, Work Media consisted of 6 people. Back around 2006, my brother, Chris, and I started Work Media. Soon thereafter, we partnered with an advertising agency in Nashville, Frank Best International, moving our office into a building they owned in Nashville, and went to work.
At first, we had way more time than we had clients. So I spent a ton of time writing articles, and eventually books. One of our early books, Law Firm Internet Marketing, did pretty well – not necessarily in terms of volume sales, but that really wasn’t the point – it got our name out there, helped us pick up some legal clients and get established as experts in our industry.
So we worked our asses off for several years, and the company grew. Frank Best folded, so we closed our Nashville office and opened up shop in our home base of Dickson. Although we were disappointed at how things turned out in Nashville, it was actually pretty nice only having to drive 10 minutes to get to our office.
At first, we had a very modest office in the old arcade building in downtown Dickson. I would like at this point to give a shout out to Mr. Dale Ragan, a local realtor and businessman who rents out the office space in the arcade. It’s kind-of an incubator for young businesses in the Dickson area. It’s nothing fancy, but Dale never required a lease and it was about the cheapest and most convenient place in Dickson to open up an office. So thank you, Dale.
Anyway, after a couple of years working out of our modest office at the arcade, we were at the point where we needed more room. So we moved basically across the street into an office that had lots more room, not to mention sweet exposed brick walls. We felt high class at that point.
That was when we were at our highest point. We brought in one more partner and even hired a guy to be our full-time website developer. That was one of our first big mistakes because, although we liked the guy, we really didn’t have enough work for him and didn’t make nearly enough from his services to cover his salary. But man, we were rolling. We were making money, but also spending big money.
That was the first time in my life that my income climbed into the six figures.
And that’s when I messed up. Pay attention, kids – the lesson is about to begin.
Our revenue passed the $400 thousand range. If we had kept growing the thing, I have no doubt we would have hit the $1 million mark. At that point, we probably would have started fielding buyout offers. It would have been the American dream – start a business, grow it to a million in sales, and then cash out. Or just keep making a million dollars a year. Either way, you can’t really go wrong.
But then things started to change.
First, we lost a major client – one that brought in about $6 thousand per month in revenue. Clients come and go, but when you lose one worth nearly $75 thousand per year, you feel it. That is also an important lesson to take from this article. If you are in a business that deals with clients, you MUST have a diversity of clients. If too much of your business is dependent on one or very few customers, you put yourself in a very dangerous position. No client stays around forever. Sometimes they find a company they like better, sometimes they just get bored with you. Whatever the case, you must have enough clients to be able to withstand even your biggest ones going away.
But that wasn’t the biggest problem.
The biggest problem was with me.
I built Work Media. Early on, it was the writing I did – the content I created – that catapulted us to success. But when the money started pouring in, I lost focus.
And that is the point of this article.
If I had continued to market and promote our business like we did in the early days, when we didn’t have any business, I could have put Work Media on my back and carried us to success. I needed to maintain that sense of urgency and keep promoting like our lives depended on it – like we didn’t have any clients.
Instead, here is what I did.
For one thing, I started spending money. Just about every week, I bought a guitar or an amp or a high-end graded comic book. I justified it all to myself as “investments.” And they were, but they lacked one thing that more traditional investments have – liquidity. I still have guitars all over my house. I love them. And when my wife and I opened up an antique store, I used my own collection to start a musical instrument section, so I did make money on them. But all along, I would have been better off to just sock away cash. At the end of the day, you can’t eat a guitar – but if you have cash, you can go to the grocery store.
I also got behind on taxes, which was a dreadful mistake. That is a dark hole you don’t want to enter.
But my financial mistakes were not the main thing I did wrong. The main thing is that I lost FOCUS.
All of a sudden, I didn’t care about Internet marketing anymore. I got bored with it. I started getting all these ideas in my head about other things I wanted to do, other businesses I wanted to start.
I decided that I wanted to start a company making tube guitar amplifiers. For those of you who are not music people, I will explain. For some reason, tube amplifiers just sound far better than solid state or digital amplifiers. It’s an antiquated technology. Really, other than audio production, I don’t think gas-filled glass tubes have any use. But for whatever reason, when you plug a guitar into a tube amplifier, the sound is absolutely magical. No matter how good the technology, no form of digital technology can touch the sound of an all tube guitar amp.
During this time period, when I was buying a lot of electric guitars, I became obsessed with the sound of tube guitar amplifiers. So I decided I wanted to start a custom tube guitar amplifier company (and honestly, I still do to this day).
The problem? I didn’t no shit about building a tube guitar amp.
So I started devoting large amounts of time to learning about tube guitar amplification. I thought that I could teach myself in a matter of months what it probably takes years to learn. I believe that is what you call “arrogance.” And even if I could have actually learned how to build an amp, I still didn’t know the first thing about how I could actually start a company selling them. Nevertheless, that was what I started thinking about and spending precious time trying to do.
During that same time, I also became involved with another side business that is still going to this day. It has a ton of potential and could still make my partners and me a lot of money…but it hasn’t yet.
In the meantime, Work Media was on the decline.
Things reached their low point about two years ago when my partners in the business (including my own brother) decided they wanted out. All-of-a-sudden, the business was crumbling. And there wasn’t anything I could do at that point.
Having devoted nearly a decade of my life to building the business, I held on, and I am now the final member of Work Media. After getting over the shell shock of the whole thing (which took longer than it should have), I finally got back to doing the things I was doing twelve years when we first started. It sucks to start from scratch, and it sucks to do it alone. But the situation is what it is. Sometimes you’ve just got to pick up the shovel and start digging.
If I had continued all along to write books and do all the things that got Work Media to our high point, we would have prospered.
Certainly, it would be easy for me to lay blame. I mean, if there were six of us at our high point, why didn’t one of the other guys pick up the slack to promote the business?
Because I believe there are no accidents in life. EVERYTHING is a lesson. I was the guy who had done the things that had caused the business to grow. I’m not even saying I was the most important part of the business. But as far as growing the business- writing books, writing articles, doing videos, etc. – that was my deal. And I stopped doing all those things. I let everything fall apart.
Now…let’s be clear. Was I angry at my partners who bailed? You’re damn right I was. But time certainly does give one the ability to see things for how they were. And I can now fully accept responsibility for what happened. It was all on me…because I lost FOCUS.
It would actually be great if I could say that this failure on my part was relegated to the business environment, but it was not. It leaked into my personal life, and eventually caused GREAT strife between my wife and me. Few things cause a hard time between a husband and wife like being broke. And that’s where we ended up.
And so at last we come to the point I am trying to make. If you run your own business or are thinking about starting a business, DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.
Don’t let that first big check or big year distract you. That sudden wealth can disappear just as suddenly. I’m sure there’s a Dave Ramsey lesson in here as well, as far as managing your money better and all that.
Here is quick aside, just for the hell of it. Those Dave Ramsey people are kind-of weird. I had a phone interview with them at one point regarding a job opening they had (for which I was WAY over qualified) but if you want to get in with Dave Ramsey, you better be ready to reveal very personal details of your life. But I digress.
When your business starts to grow, continue to work like hell to grow it. Don’t stop when you’re halfway there like I did. Don’t get distracted. And don’t spend all your money.
I am also reminded of an old Dan Kennedy lesson here, which is to do at least one thing every day, without exception, to put business in the pipeline.
Since I am an Internet marketing guy and this is an article about my business, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the Internet. Here in Dickson, where I live, I am shocked at how little attention businesses pay to their Internet presence. It is unfathomable to me how ANY business in the year 2018 would not have a website. But that is often the case. Not just in Dickson, but in bigger cities as well. Why would you NOT take advantage of the way people look for businesses these days? You should have a website that is mobile friendly, a Facebook Page, and a Google MyBusiness page. You should do things to encourage Google to list your website, and you should drive targeted traffic to your Facebook page. Basically any way someone might find your business online, you should use it.
Work Media is still alive and kicking and I am still actively working with my clients to promote their businesses. If you own a business and don’t really know how to go about using the Internet to promote it, please give me a call. I will be happy to discuss what you should be doing at no charge. And maybe we can do some business. I will say that I am a better, more wise businessman now than I was a few years back. I have learned some hard lessons, and I make sure I apply what I have learned to anyone I work with.
I hope this painful and embarrassing story from my life helps some of you avoid the same mistakes I made. Now let’s make some money!