Are you thinking about starting a business, but want to know what you’re getting into? If so, this podcast is for you!
This week, we talk extensively about the ups and downs of running a business. Brandon Rollins, the founder and CEO of Pangea Marketing walks us through the high highs and low lows of running a business.
Pierson: What’s up, everybody? This is Pierson Hibbs here with Pangea Marketing. I’m here with Brandon Rollins.
Brandon: Hey, everyone.
Pierson: And today we’re gonna do an episode called the ups and downs of starting a small business, and if you didn’t tune into last week’s episode, or it might not have been last week. Whenever it came out, the very last service that we published, we talked about, should you quit your day job? And we listed the pros and cons of that, and we kind of went in depth as to what the benefits would be for leaving, what the benefits would be for staying and how that plays out. And Brandon was able to give us quite a bit of insight into what that process looked like for him while he balances his regular full-time job on top of starting his own business. But with that comes another discussion which we didn’t get into, and that is kind of talking about the ups and downs of that process once it’s up and going, and starting a small business…
Pierson: Starting any business in any capacity is a daunting task, and it’s filled with many ups and downs, and lots of us don’t have a chance to really talk to somebody and get that insight as to what that process looked like, what some of those obstacles that they were faced with were, and most importantly, how they faced them and how they overcame them to get to where they’re at now. And with that being said, Brandon, why don’t we get going with a little bit for those that might not have caught last week’s episode, why don’t you give a little bit of background about you, the company, when we got started, and just give a little bit of a run down to get us going.
Brandon: Okay, so Pangea is a digital marketing agency. And what that means is clients come to us and they need help with various kinds of digital marketing tasks, ranging from writing blog posts, to running advertisements, making sure their book cover is ready for launch day, making sure their Kickstarter is already so on, stuff like that. We have been doing this for about 18 months. I run the company and Pierson works for me. While doing this, we’ve figured out through trial and error, a lot of what works and a lot of what doesn’t work, and I’ve done this all while working full-time at a regular job as well. In today’s show, what we’re gonna talk about are some of the just the high highs and the low lows of starting your own business, what do you have to look forward to? And what do you have to brace yourself for?
Pierson: And I think that with that we’re gonna be able to gain a little bit of perspective as to what that process was like for you, how it could look like for somebody that is potentially about to start their own business, and hopefully just provide a little bit of clarity for those who might be looking for it right now. So jumping into the first question, Brandon, when you were starting Pangea as a company, and let’s not… We’ll stick to Pangea Marketing rather than Pangea Games, which if those listening aren’t familiar, that’s a whole other topic by itself, Brandon is just as engaged with Pangea Games as Pangea Marketing, and that was one of the first starting points that you have, Brandon. But can you give us a little bit of the first steps that you took when you were trying to get Pangea Marketing off the ground running, what that process kinda looked like in those first initial steps you took.
Brandon: So the true birth of Pangea Marketing was in March of 2019. Now, we didn’t have all of the documents and everything like that until May, but the actual beginning was March 2019. Under the name of Pangea Games, we had landed a very large client and we were starting to do marketing for them. Well, actually, at this time it was just me.
Pierson: Just you. [chuckle]
Brandon: Yeah, at this time it was just me. I was almost like a glorified freelancer at this point, and what initially happened is the marketing had superseded the board games that we were doing or that I was doing in terms of revenue at that point. So the first thing I needed to do was just meet with this big client, write down potential projects we could work on and figure out what it is that he needed. So really, I think step one for any business is you need to land one client or figure out how to make a product that really satisfies people. That’s where you start. That is more important than getting the licenses, like business licenses, that is more important than figuring out every tiny little detail of tax, etcetera, because if you don’t have a basic fundamental business idea that works, it’s… It’s not worth the actual hassle of doing that stuff.
Brandon: Which to be fair, you have to get that done pretty quickly. You do need to stay on top of taxes and you need to have a business license. The first thing to do for people who are starting a business for the first time, you actually need to make sure that what you’re doing is going to sell.
Pierson: Like actually having a product or a service to deliver to people… Before you can get going with any of the steps of documentation and the legal aspects of it, you have to have a product, you have to have a service, you have to have something that you’re delivering to the audience that you’re trying to target to. And without that, you don’t have a business.
Brandon: Mm-hmm. Exactly, and I’m thinking… Because what I said might be really confusing, I wanna give you a general rule, or give the audience, a general rule that you can follow if you’re not sure when to actually formalize your business as a legal entity. When you’re doing services for somebody, it is totally fine to operate as an individual if you are under a certain threshold of revenue, it depends on your state, and well, for those international, it depends on your country as well. I think in Tennessee, if you make more than $3,000, you have to actually register the business. So for us, if you lived in Tennessee and were subject to that same rule, I would say once you make 1500 or $2000, if you are not legally considered an independent contractor for somebody, then you need to go get that license so that it’s approved before you hit 3,000, that way you can properly file taxes. Now, if you make a product, here’s the flip side, you’re almost certainly going to spend money before you make it, so I would say start by spending your own personal income before you go filing those… Filing the documents themselves, once you’re clearly committed to either spending more money or you start to make money, then you want to register at that point, or rather before you actually sell something, then you wanna register.
Pierson: For sure. And it absolutely, it really is worth taking the time to learn about this stuff and learn about the situation that you’re in, given your location, what you’re doing. The rules might be different for you depending on where you’re at and what you’re trying to do. But just being aware of that and knowing that that is something that at some point in time that will come up, being aware of that is something that is good to keep in the back of your mind, for sure.
Brandon: Mm-hmm. I would say the first big hurdle that people are going to cross is probably just finding something that people care about in the first place, and this is really tricky, like you take Ryan Lothian’s Shopify store, for example. He has a system set up to where he can have shirts printed on demand based on people ordering certain designs. He is figuring out what people want by putting designs out there on the internet and just kind of seeing what people actually buy and then making them on demand. He doesn’t get a very big cut of what is sent out, he doesn’t make a very high profit on it, but he knows exactly what people want, similarly with services, you can just kind of start to… Selling what you’re able to do and then figure out what kind of niche you might want to go into from there. In particular for example, we’ve had… A lot of people have been really, really interested in in social media advertising lately, so we have started to step a little bit more into social media advertising, even though we started out just saying, “Here’s everything we can do. Let us know what you need.”
Pierson: Right, it’s about listening to your audience and what they’re really needing from you, ’cause you can have a wide array of skills and products and so forth, but if you’re not listening to what your audience is really needing from you, then you’re not effectively delivering to them.
Brandon: Exactly, exactly. And you have to… Another tricky part is just knowing what are the right questions to ask? How do I get people to tell me what they truly want and give an honest, unfiltered opinion.
Pierson: So when you think back, Brandon to when you were getting it started, is there any memory that comes to mind that you think was more difficult than the others in terms of just getting things off the ground? Any big hurdles that you had to jump right off the bat?
Brandon: Let’s see, with Pangea Marketing, after landing our first client work or… I guess my first client work, ’cause it was just me at that point, the tricky… One of the trickiest things I ran into after actually landing a client was figuring out billing. So suddenly things had gotten very complicated, I had settled on a rate of $50 an hour, which is a reasonable rate for marketing services, particularly if you’re just getting started. And then it suddenly became a question of, “Oh my goodness, how do I track time? How do I send invoices, how do I handle all of this?” And I started doing it as many people do in Microsoft Word.
Brandon: I’m talking… Yeah, you just kind of make these invoices and then I sent them out. They took a long time to do. I closely monitored how much time I was spending on stuff, and that’s how we actually arrived at the bill, and then eventually sent that out and collected payment via PayPal. Okay, so this is like a jury rig solution. This is not what a lot of businesses will… This is not what established businesses tend to do, but it worked for the time being. We eventually got that de-tangled by switching to QuickBooks and then I kept a… I started keeping a running tally of hours worked on, saved but not sent invoices, so that whenever a regularly scheduled bill date went out, all we had to do is click a button and it automatically sent them. And then it would automatically collect money too, so it wasn’t this weird, creating your own documents situation, and it wasn’t setting up payments in PayPal and everything, it was just, we send out an invoice automatically, collect payment by credit card or bank transfer, much easier.
Pierson: Yeah, it seems simple enough. When you put it like that, having not started my own small business simply just working for you, I… Thinking about having to go through that process, the part of it for me that’s always stood out as what might be the most difficult is just going through that paperwork and finding the best method of payment, the best way for me, and not only for me, but for the audience that I’m serving, what will be the most effective form of payment for both parties?
Brandon: Keeping a running tally of hours worked helped a lot, and just leaving off anything that was, if we worked on researching something that we didn’t know how to do, like we couldn’t bill for that. There are certain things you can’t bill for, which is a whole other can of worms, but keeping a running a tally helped.
Pierson: And that… What you said though about, there’s a lot that you can’t bill for. We talked about this yesterday on a call that we were on, but you don’t bill for marketing research, you don’t bill for stuff like that.
Brandon: Well, marketing research is kind of gray area, like if you don’t know the answer to something and you really ought to, then yeah, you can’t bill for that. Now, if they are asking you to specifically research a unique field with some unique conditions to get answers to specific questions, then you can bill for that. So I would say directed research, if the client directs you to do research, you can bill for that. If they do not direct you to do research and you have to do it in order to be competent at your job, then you can’t bill for that.
Pierson: That’s a much better way of explaining it, Brandon.
Brandon: Yeah, billable, un-billable is… That could be a show all on it’s own, and it’s probably not one that we’re gonna do because I can’t imagine a lot of people are gonna listen to that.
Pierson: We’re gonna give you a three-hour long form podcast, just listing off what is billable and what is not billable.
Brandon: Yeah, ethical agency billing is complex. Yeah, it’s so important to get right, and it’s something I try to take great, great care with, but like good grief. It does not make for good content marketing.
Pierson: Yeah, I can’t argue with the fact that when I hear it, it just gets me all excited.
Brandon: Yeah, I’ll tell you, the next tricky part is gonna be as you and Maria start doing more consulting, the tricky part is not gonna be just tracking my time, it’s gonna be tracking your time as well, and it’s figuring out exactly how much can I bill for time, spent by somebody who isn’t as experienced as I am in specific tasks. That’s the next thing that I’m gonna figure out, and I don’t actually know the answer to it yet.
Pierson: Well, I think you’ll have some time to figure that out.
Brandon: Yeah, we’re gonna have to find some time sheet software or something… This whole Google Sheets thing is not gonna work forever.
Pierson: It’s been a good method as we’re getting off the ground and kinda getting our feet… Getting going with it, you know.
Brandon: It’s good enough to get hours, so I can pay you so I can send papers to the DoL. It’s good enough for that purpose, but beyond that, no.
Pierson: But as we grow technology software, art forms of running the business will obviously grow with that. So kinda moving into the next direction from getting your business up and going. You’ve got it established. You’re up and going with it. You’ve got a client, what were some of the biggest ups for you in this? Like the highlights of having your own business, aside from working another full-time job, can you walk me through some of what the highlights of that were for you?
Brandon: Well, I’ll tell you one of the… One of the things that’s really great about it and that you get immediately, regardless of whether you’re successful or not, is you have autonomy. You can truly direct your own workload, and that is not something that you’re going to find very easily anywhere else. It is a very unique benefit, and I think that’s why a lot of people start their own businesses in the first place, they crave either autonomy or maybe more broadly… Freedom. Freedom to do whatever it is that they want. Of course, freedom itself can be a curse, and that’s what we’ll talk about. I’m sure we’ll cover that a little bit later. Now once you just… Once you appreciate the sheer autonomy and freedom of it, you also start to realize that you can direct yourself in any way that you find meaningful, like if I got really, truly sick of doing work for a certain kind of industry, we don’t have to.
Brandon: There’s no rule whatsoever that we have to service a particular industry that we don’t like. If there are tasks that I don’t want to do for a client, we can turn them down, now that might not be smart, but we can. We can pursue whatever we find meaningful.
Pierson: That’s an empowering thing, when you reach a point that you’re able to do really what you want to do, because that’s what this is, is you can choose, I want to spend my time working on this. And that is one of the most fulfilling things that you can do, and I can speak to that a little bit in that I’ve been working for you now for, I guess, going on a year and a half in summer… Close to that. Something like that. But I have the freedom to write about things that I wanna write about and to talk about things in the podcast that make me happy too, and I think that having that freedom to voice who I am on top of my professional career, it leaves you with a sense of fulfillment.
Brandon: Yeah, I think so too, yeah. That’s the weird thing about this is even you would think marketing consulting wouldn’t be a meaningful business to get into, you just wouldn’t. It doesn’t sound like it would be… It sounds like the kind of thing that people do to make a quick buck, it sounds like marginally more meaningful than day trading stocks, which is the least meaningful job I can possibly think of. Don’t @ me day traders.
Brandon: But the thing is, like all we do is we help people spread ideas, and we help people craft ideas into the best version of what they can be, and what that practically means is we help a fulfillment warehouse put their best work forward so that they can ship small businesses’ goods more efficiently than anybody else, I know. We help a really good looking board game to recover from a Kickstarter that didn’t go so well and give it a shot at actually making it on the ReLaunch, we take an author whose words might otherwise not be discovered, and we get them into the public where at least some people will see them and really come to love the book, like that’s where meaning comes in, and we actually get to choose to do that. You can make $200,000 a year on some fancy DC job, and good luck finding something that’s… Well, okay, you can find meaningful work in a traditional career, but it’s a lot easier, I think, to carve out a meaningful path when you’re starting a business than it would be through working for someone else.
Pierson: That kinda goes back to just being able to move in the direction you wanna move in, which is what we’ve been highlighting the last couple of minutes. But that’s a really important thing. When you think of what you wanna do… When someone asks you what do you wanna do when you grow up, when you were a kid, you might say, do this or that, but realistically, what I think everybody wants is to be happy and to do something that leaves them with that sense of fulfillment. And when you go down that path, the path of a traditional career, let’s say, what you’re talking about, Brandon, you give away aspects of that personal freedom that you have to choose what you wanna do, to kinda pick and choose the directions you wanna go in, because that path has already been kinda highlighted for you. This is the direction that you are going in, you’re trending in this way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but having that freedom is empowering. And it’s something that I think I see through you and I see bits and pieces of with what I do for you myself.
Brandon: Yeah, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Pierson: Well then in that case, let’s switch gears again and talk about the worst things that have come your way when you got Pangea up and going.
Brandon: Alright. A conversation ender.
Pierson: Yeah, a good way to put that one to rest.
Brandon: Oh, goodness, let’s see other ups. I mean…
Pierson: And I’m sure the personal moments of victory, I’m sure there are dozens of them, that you can look back on and think through, this is one of the moments that make me feel like, “Wow, this is a good feeling,” I’m sure when you landed that first client Fulfillrite, I’m sure that the feeling of just knowing like, “wow, I’m like… I’m trying to get this up and going, and I just landed a client,” this is like… “What the hell? This is real.”
Brandon: That was massive.
Pierson: And that’s… I mean, you did that while you’re also working at another job, let’s keep that in mind too. So it’s like that first glimpse of, “Can I do this… Like, is this possible to have a career where I don’t have to bounce back and forth between the two of them?”
Brandon: You see, it was, I believe it was March 13th, 2019… No, it was somewhere in the middle of March, 2019 is where I actually got that first taste of really big victory with Fulfillrite, and that is, I flew up there on a Sunday, okay. And so I flew in non-stop Chattanooga to New York city, drove a couple of hours down to the middle of New Jersey, had a couple hours of meeting, landed their client work, which we’re still doing work for them, and it’s working out beautifully, and then drove back up to LaGuardia, that’s a two hour drive, again, and then took a red-eye back to Chattanooga, fell… Got back, landed 10 AM, got back to my house at 1:30-1:45 in the morning, fell asleep, woke up at six, went to work. But grueling as that was, and difficult as that was, it felt like a really big achievement, it felt like the biggest career achievement I had made up to that point, except for maybe landing my first job out of college.
Brandon: And really, I’m not sure which one is the bigger one, I couldn’t tell you. Yeah, I mean, feelings of massive achievement like that come major and minor a lot when you run a business, even if you’re not profitable.
Pierson: And that feeling couldn’t be stopped, even though you had to fly through LaGuardia, one of the worst airports in the nation.
Brandon: That’s right, I felt good about myself even after spending hours in LaGuardia waiting for a delayed flight.
Pierson: I am openly blushing, LaGuardia airport in New York City, I’ve had terrible experiences there.
Brandon: I just realized the redundancy of saying delayed flight when we’re referencing LaGuardia, because that is actually the only kind of flight that flies out of LaGuardia is a delayed flight. So before we totally lose it, the red-eye, I’m trying to think other major ups and here’s another one. So look, I’ll shoot straight with you, it takes years to actually succeed in business for a lot of people, Pangea Marketing is an iteration upon Pangea Games, and it took four years to make an actual meaningful cash positive profit. Okay, so we had little profits here and there before then, but, I mean, it was… I mean, it was minor, it was something you could miss, a couple thousand here, a couple of thousand there, but when… It was in 2019 where we saw our first meaningful profit, in 2020, we’re doing even better. Now, I’ll tell you, once you get a business going and once it’s actually working, you have… Nobody is going to cap your salary, okay, so I won’t get into specifics, but let’s just say that Pangea and my day job are matched neck-to-neck on payment right now. If I do a really good job in a traditional job, you’ll see a five percent increase every year or something tops.
Brandon: And that’s assuming you go to a place that has merit pay, which is not a good assumption, ’cause a lot of places don’t do that. And then every promotion, you might get a 10% bump or a 15% bump. If you work really hard on a business, and you land more clients, you could see a 20-25%, 30%, 35% increase in the amount that you’re making very quickly. If you’re doing products or software, even… Or software especially, you could double, triple, quadruple what you’re bringing home pretty quickly, nobody is capping you. The only thing that’s capping you are, well, your hard work, the quality of your ideas, and to some degree, luck. But no person is actually stopping you at any point, there is no ceiling, it’s nothing but blue sky above you.
Pierson: What I’m getting more than almost anything else, Brandon, is just that freedom, like the freedom to just do what you wanna do.
Brandon: Yeah, and it’s not for everyone. Freedom is… Freedom is a two-edged sword, but if you want freedom, this is one of the best ways to get it.
Pierson: For sure. And one of the things I wanted to touch on that you mentioned a minute ago was that it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine throughout the process, there’s a lot of it that throughout the process of having clients, not having as many clients, were still releasing content steadily and we’re still doing work that might not be making as much money for the company, but it’s keeping our presence, it’s doing… Doing the nitty-gritty stuff that you know is building the company up more and more, and it’s just as important.
Brandon: Absolutely, and it’s not all gonna be billable time, like you do have to do content market, you do have to network, you have to do all of this stuff too if you want to… If you want to keep a presence, and let’s say you’re not running an online business, which a lot of people aren’t… Most businesses are offline for the most part, you still gotta network with people, you still gotta bring people to your store front, you still have to…
Pierson: Sorry to interrupt, but to interject real quick, I think that that’s one of the interesting things about this year specifically, is that you’re seeing a lot of businesses go from brick and mortar to more of an online presence due to COVID.
Brandon: Yeah, and it is a real mixed bag, we’ve kind of just grew e-commerce five to 10 years all at once, which can be really amazing for advancing technology that was otherwise stuck.
Pierson: At that… On the flip side of that though, it’s a scary shift for a lot of people, because not everybody was ready to have that change before, it’s one thing to be able to choose to make the change of… The biggest one for a lot of people, and I see this very common, I saw it, especially in real estate, before I started working for you Brandon, but the shift of people who don’t wanna switch from paper to digital, that’s one of the first ones that come to mind when I think of just one of the first changes that need to happen when you’re… Due to COVID, when everybody’s stuck at home and they’re quarantining, and currently, as we’re recording this, it’s late October, cases are starting to surge again, cities are coming out with new lockdown ordinances and all that stuff, people are limited with what they can do in person. This is accelerating that trend towards digital and e-commerce by, like you said, years, years and years of time that it naturally would have taken to progress had COVID not hit, not glamorizing the situation in any means, but it does bring an interesting position for a lot of businesses that weren’t… The thought of having an online presence wasn’t their main source of income, and then suddenly having to go, “Shit. Well, I guess I have to,” you don’t have a choice. You wanna stay in business, you have to adapt.
Brandon: From a pure business perspective, COVID is just pure chaos.
Pierson: Not just from a business perspective, from any perspective, it’s just pure chaos.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s chaos in the sense that it can be very constructive and it’s obviously very destructive. We know how bad this disease is, there have been some… I don’t even know how many people it is who’ve died in US anymore, I think it’s well over 210,000 at this point, and probably a million globally at this point, like, “Oh my God… ” it takes your breath away, it’s not something anybody could have wished for, and I think the best we can do at this point is just hope that at a minimum, we squeeze out some amount of innovation that makes life better for everybody afterward, and maybe allows life to flourish in new and unexpected ways. I think that the best things we can do is, well, first, wear a damn mask, but… Wear a damn mask, try to cure this thing and take what we learned from this mass social experiment and try to make something out of it.
Pierson: For sure. And I mean, the whole discussion regarding masks is one that… It makes me kinda laugh at this point because… Well, for one, science, but aside from that, I think that there’s a level of respect that comes with wearing a mask, not just for like… Okay, let me put it like this, a lot of countries in Southeastern Asia, when I was in Japan and Taiwan, it’s very common to see people wearing masks, well before the pandemic. I went in early 2018… Or late 2018, early 2019, before COVID was on anybody’s radar. I had a sinus infection when I was in Taipei. Because I was sick and because it is culturally what you do, so you’re not spreading your germs when I’m on public transit, so I’m not getting anybody else around me sick, I wore a mask. This was in 2019. I’m not thinking about, “I don’t want to have to wear this because I’m uncomfortable, I’m wearing this because this is what people do when they are sick as a common courtesy to everybody else around them, not for themselves,” with COVID, I’m not sick right now, I’m young, I’m healthy, I’d like to think that I’m not necessarily more at risk, but I wear a mask because I know that I’ve been around people and who I come in contact with, those people could be at risk, it’s a courtesy for others, and I feel like that kind of gets lost somewhere for people that it’s like people get told, wear a mask and it’s immediately, “I don’t wanna wear a mask, you’re telling me to wear a mask, so I don’t wanna do it.”
Brandon: I think at this point, the best argument to convince people who don’t want to do it is not to say even… Not to even say that it’s very dangerous and that it’s a big deal, I feel like the best argument is just to say, “Look, somewhere between half and two-thirds of people that you encounter on the street are afraid of this thing… “
Brandon: “And the nice… And the nicest thing you can do socially at this point, is just wear a mask until the thing… ” Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of like before the virus, if you met somebody, you shook hands and you made eye contact, at least in the US, obviously, eye contact differs by country, but point is there are just certain basic courtesies that you afford to people because you know that a certain percentage of people expect you to behave in a certain sort of way. To me, I feel like this is a new version of that, and we’re all… And it’s still a little contentious because it’s all very new, among other things.
Pierson: Yeah, and we’ve spent a lot of time, Brandon, personally talking about this and what COVID has done in society and on our own personal lives, but when this kinda got ramped up in March, we were sitting here saying the same thing, I have no idea what this is gonna lead to. It’s a whole just… It’s a big question mark in a lot of ways, and that’s what’s scary to so many people is that you can’t see the… What’s gonna happen with it. It’s just kinda blindly walking and hoping you’re doing the right thing and doing your part, but when I go back now, and I’m sure a lot of you guys listening might be in the same boat, you’re stuck inside for months, there’s not a whole lot to do outside of home activities or being outdoors, you end up watching movies and TV from… Well before COVID hit, that era, and I look at arenas packed filled with people, and I look at the subway cars in New York City and all of these different settings, and I think, “Wow, it’s not that surprising to me when I think about it now, living in a pandemic and thinking of how easily transmitted diseases can be,” I mean, it’s like I see arenas filled with people, and I’m like, “Wow, that… I can’t imagine that right now.”
Pierson: And if someone told me a year ago, “Hey, in October of 2020, the thought of just being in a stadium with people is gonna sound unreal.” It’s crazy that you’re just… The reality that we are living in now can shift that much in the course of one year.
Brandon: Oh, absolutely, and it’s funny ’cause when you watch old TV and movies like what you had mentioned, you start to realize how many unsanitary things that people just do as part of their day-to-day life, you see everybody touching their face and you see her by doing this and that, and you begin to realize, how has this not happened before in the modern times? Like, okay, I know we’ve had some things come up since, major pandemics including… Since 1918, polio, the 1959 influenza pandemic, I believe it was in 1968, and then 2009 was H1N1 and that’s all I can think of immediately… Yeah but… Oh God, yes, SARS, that was a close one. It didn’t go worldwide, but it was definitely… It could have been.
Pierson: But still, when you think about the scope of this and how it’s a respiratory infection essentially, and it’s spread through viral transmission, the thought that this has not happened is absolutely unreal to me, ’cause we’re in close… Before COVID, you’re in close contact with people, like for me, I go to a concert, I don’t buy tickets up in the nosebleeds, I buy pit tickets, I’m shoulder to shoulder with people screaming and singing with people sweating and spilling beer all over my legs at times, and it’s uncomfortable, but you’re in close quarters and no one thinks about it, ’cause you’re at a show, that’s been… Personally, one of the hardest parts for me is not getting to see any live music this year, but when I think about, you know, the experience of being at a concert, that is just not a reality right now, and it sucks and it’s hard, and we’ve spent a whole series on our blog marketing as a product, talking about how COVID’s affected all these different industries. And it’s sad, but it has… It’s affected everybody.
Brandon: Yeah, and on that note, it’s actually getting to the point where we’re all getting sick of writing the articles because they’re sad.
Pierson: Yeah, and that’s never been the intent behind it, but it’s like we talk about it, Brandon, in the editing process of just kind of looking over what we’ve written, and I’ll be writing a post and I’m like, “Man, it’s not looking good for this industry” or so and so or like it… Like, I can’t see a solution that makes this better right now, and I think that’s what’s scary is as a group of people, we’re really good at finding the answers to problems, and when we have a global problem that you have the best minds in the world trying to solve and no one can seemingly figure it out, it’s scary.
Brandon: Yeah, yeah, especially one as dramatic as this. I mean, it’s not like we’ve never had global problems before, not even like we never had scary global problems before, but this one hits you right in the face, nuclear war is an abstraction, climate change slowly rolls over, it is going to slowly steam more or less in about 100 years, if we don’t get our act together, but COVID hit you right here, right now, in your home or forces you to stay in your home, it hits people that you know. I can’t think of any other global problem we have had in recent history that’s like that.
Pierson: And even if you personally have not gotten COVID. I’ve not gotten COVID, Brandon, I think I can speak for you, you and Maria haven’t gotten COVID. We’ve all been fortunate and have been safe, but as of yesterday, someone in one of my very close group of… One of my best friend’s moms who I’m close to like my own mother, she has COVID. And it’s like, “Wow,” it’s starting to get into my… What I view as my inner circle of people, and it hasn’t necessarily been as real until it hits you, like you said, somewhere really close and…
Brandon: Oh yeah, it’s gotten close. I mean, it got… Maria’s dad got it and he’s on a long-hauler for a while there, things that’s really happening.
Pierson: But, enough of a tangent on COVID, but, and I think it’s a good segue into some of worst parts about starting your business. [chuckle]
Brandon: Speaking, of worse parts of starting a business, freaking healthcare, oh my God. Yeah, seriously, in the US, like I’ve said it before, this doesn’t apply in a lot of other countries, but in the US right now, age 27, no health problems to get insurances equivalent to what I have with my employer, it is 400 a month.
Pierson: Which is absurd.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s absolutely absurd. It’s beyond absurd, and it gets stranger still because I’m married, so there’s a dependent, right? So that’s 800 a month to get that. So there’s four times, actually it might be five times what I would have to pay with my employer. And because if we were gonna get a healthcare plan for the business, if I do not insure any employees, we have to get it privately. At least that’s the way it works in our state, it may be the same way in other states too, I don’t know, but long story short, we get it on the open market place for both of us to be covered, it’s 1200 a month in Tennessee, which is completely, absolutely, pants on head, insane.
Brandon: And then, yeah, here’s where it gets really screwed up, if we get it through Pangea, it’s 800 a month for both of us. Much more reasonable. Correct? Oh, but to cover you, it would be roughly 400 a month, and of course, we would have to pay for at least 50% of that, which is the right thing to do as your an employer, and we’d probably cover 75%. So that puts us at 1100 and that requires us to keep one insured employee at all times, healthcare, freaking, healthcare, and we have no idea what’s gonna happen.
Pierson: I was about to say, well, there’s job security for me.
Brandon: Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have let you in to that, but yeah, that’s… Yeah. We have… Healthcare is… There are obviously other downsides to running a business that are more abstract and that apply generally to elsewhere, but you can’t ignore the healthcare problem, it’s so massive. And to make matters worse, I don’t really wanna make a partisan statement here, so I’m gonna couch my words very carefully, healthcare in the United States, the prices are directly affected by the ACA, also known as ObamaCare passed in, I believe it was 2010.
Brandon: So these are relatively recent regulations, and maybe you think they’re driving premiums up, or maybe you think it’s what helped get a lot of Americans insured, but either way, I mean, either of those takes makes sense for what I’m about to get at. The ACA is about to be reviewed again by the Supreme Court which is now with Amy Coney Barrett, it’s conformation is 6:3 conservative to liberal, roughly speaking. And the ACA only survive by a 5:4 ruling, I believe it was earlier this year, or maybe some time in the past couple of years.
Brandon: Long story short, we have no idea what is going to be covered next year. Now, it may very well be the case that nothing changes, and it may very well be the case that what happens is the ACA gets repealed and something better comes in its place. There’s a lot of potential outcomes, good and bad here, but the point that I’m getting at is there is not only a high price tag on healthcare, but there’s also uncertainty on how much that’s going to go up or down in the near future. And that just, it’s such an albatross around small businesses necks right now, ’cause again, like subsidies, we don’t know what’s going to… What subsidies are going to be around in the future. Not to be a doomer, but I’m just being honest, this is a situation with healthcare right now, and if you’re in the US, you can’t ignore it.
Pierson: Like always, I think both you and I, Brandon, we’re very honest. We tell like it is, we shoot straight, not trying to sugarcoat any of this. There are obvious ups, there are obvious downs, and we don’t wanna be one of those podcasts or marketing agencies that just tries to sugarcoat shit and sell it to you as fine and dandy as it can be all the time, ’cause sometimes it’s not. And you know the reality that we’re in in a lot of ways, right now between politics, COVID, the current state of the United States, and even the world; there’s a lot of chaos, and it’s, I think important to just acknowledge all of that for what it is.
Brandon: And again, I don’t wanna be too biased here in my telling, the point is, no matter what your read on the situation is, you just have to be aware that it’s all very uncertain because root for whoever you want here, it’s just… It’s a simple fact that one of the largest expenses for small businesses is a political football between different parties right now, and who’s in charge affects what the rules of engagement for your business. Unavoidable.
Brandon: Unavoidable problem, more so than taxes. Taxes move incrementally one direction or another, this… It’s not the same way, it’s not even close, it’s like 20% of labor costs, or it would be like 15-20% on labor costs. It is huge, but getting into stuff beyond that, so I had pulled up a quote earlier about freedom. So there’s an existentialist, Danish philosopher, his name is Soren Kierkegaard, and he’s written a lot of books. And he has a quote that I really like, which is “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Okay, so you get freedom. You can do anything you want, what do you do? And see, that’s the problem, it’s just figuring out exactly what do you wanna do, what niche is going to be profitable and meaningful to you? Who do you hire? Who do you wanna serve? Yeah, and those decisions, you have to make them.
Brandon: And if you don’t make them, they’ll be made for you by outside circumstances. And that’s a weight. It’s a really heavy weight. And after a while, I’ve started to just go with my gut on low, on stuff that’s not gonna make much of a difference either way, because sometimes just making a quick gut decision on something that doesn’t matter a lot is better than agonizing and optimizing. But you still have to be able to know what is actually the most important decision, so I can really think about it. So yeah, you’ve got to, not only do you have a lot of choices, but you also have to make meta choices about what choices you need to spend time thinking about and which ones you just give… The first thing that pops into your mind as an answer, anyway, that and…
Brandon: There’s also… It takes a few years for a lot of people to get rolling and we’ve all heard the statistics. However many percent of small businesses fail… I don’t know, I don’t know what the stats are. You hear everybody say different things, it really depends on what you define as fail too, and that’s a whole rabbit trail itself, but point is, it’s hard to make a profit and you will probably work for a long time before you start seeing a serious amount of money come in and you just have to be mentally prepared for that.
Pierson: And you know, Brandon, that’s one of the things that, I know you’ve heard me say it to you a dozen times, “We’re on the right track, we’re taking baby steps.” And so I was just, taking a step in the right direction is the best thing that you can do, it doesn’t have to be a leap in the right direction, that could be as simple as just accomplishing your year end goals early. Was it last month or the month before that, I guess it was… Was it August or September that you told me that we had already met all of our year-to-date goals that we had set.
Brandon: Goodness. I don’t know, I think we did. We actually hit our revenue goal and it was a moon shot one too. I didn’t think we were gonna do it.
Pierson: Not by itself, just hitting that benchmark, that’s a step in the right direction. You’ve gotta take those victories for what they are because of how uncertain the climate of the world is, and you’ve gotta just be okay to invest the time, the energy, and to just be in it for the long haul. It’s a slow burn and things happen at the time that they need to happen at for you. And that looks different for everybody.
Brandon: Yeah, and I’ll say one of the best ways I know of coping with the anxiety and the uncertainty and the share amount of choices is before I go to bed, I write down what I am going to do on a white board the following day, top priorities, sometimes it’s two, and sometimes it could be 15 small things that I need to get done, but I put them on that whiteboard, and every day I start crossing them off as I go across my day and I get most of them done.
Pierson: Having a plan is… We literally talk about it more than almost anything else, probably in writing and in the show, it’s probably the biggest foundation of who we both are, I’d say one of them.
Brandon: Yeah, and it helps a lot to get the stuff out of your head and get it out into a physical space so you can see yourself actually physically going through priorities, or at least that’s the way it works for me.
Pierson: Same for me, dude, it’s the first thing I do, I do it in the morning when I sit and have coffee and listen to music, I write a list of what do I want to accomplish today? What do I need to accomplish today? And just having that, seeing it, being able to say, “Okay, I’ve done this, I’ve done this,” I could cross them out, and then it’s like you have that little rush of saying like, “Wow, I accomplished all of my goals,” and that feels good, and it’s important to take those little victories for what they are.
Brandon: And we also… We have a digital version of this too, for a team, we have a Trello board and I try to break tasks out into three to five hour increments as much as I possibly can, so that we can move them from to do, doing, pending approval, done. And we’d like to manage it that way because it’s easy for everyone to see what’s going on and for us to collectively feel like we’re accomplishing something.
Pierson: One of the best parts about Trello is how it promotes just effective communication between us and the team and just making sure we’re all on the same page between that, communicating on Slack. There haven’t been… I don’t know if I could ever think back to the time I’ve been working for you, Brandon, that I feel like I’ve not known what I was supposed to do or supposed to be working on.
Brandon: I feel like Trello is my way of trying to protect you from my natural… My natural inclination to [49:40] __ sea goal you with whatever work I’ve got in my mind. That is a sea wall meant to protect you.
Pierson: Well, I am thankful for that barrier. Brandon, the last question I’ve got is, and we end this almost the same way every time, so if you’ve been listening to the show for any bit of time now, I’m sure you’ll see this coming. But if you’re gonna start Pangea up in 2020, I guess, given the current climate of things, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Brandon: I gotta think about that. I would probably hire more, I would probably hire for more hours, now that I think about it. Yeah, because here’s the thing, the money problem is always such a problem when you’re about to hire people, because the minute you need to hire people is you’re doing extra work and you need to delegate it. Right? But once you get to that point, it’s really hard to train someone, so I find, it’s actually better to hire somebody right before you actually specifically need them, and I think… But if I had known that we were gonna start bringing in business as quickly as we would, I would have hired someone else to… Hired an additional person. Very careful, difference in words. I would have hired an additional person to take care of stuff like social media early on.
Pierson: An additional Pierson for those who might have misheard.
Brandon: Also it’s kind of weird because at the time when Pangea was really booming, Maria was also, my wife now is… She was getting over a very serious injury, so I made tons of sub-optimal panicky decisions because I was trying to manage her health, and at the time, unprecedented workload too. Yeah, I probably would have hired more hours early on so I could train somebody else to do that. Nowadays, thank goodness, because her health has improved, she is starting to do more work for our team, so… Actually, the problem that we’ve had for a long time, not enough people to work on stuff, it’s being resolved.
Pierson: Right. I think I also have been with you for long enough now, Brandon, that I have a decent feel for how things run and the general process of things.
Brandon: Yeah, you’ve got a good idea of what’s expected at this point. I wish earlier on that I was also able to just give you, I don’t know, clearer instructions or clear tasks or something else.
Pierson: We were running with a hand that we were dealt and I think things have led to a place that they’re good now, but there’s been a lot of learning curve that’s come with it, but now having worked for you for over a year now, and seeing the business and how you run it and what all goes into it. I think I’ve got a pretty decent feel for how it operates, which is good, given that we’re starting to grow more, and more responsibility come with that, but…
Brandon: I think it helps to have you know a lot more about how the day-to-day parts of the business function, because we’re getting to a point where I can’t even just have you do pure content anymore or networking anymore, we’re getting into consulting territory pretty soon.
Pierson: Exciting stuff for growing it.
Pierson: Doing it. Well, Brandon, that’s all I’ve got for you. Do you have anything else you wanna add before we close it out?
Brandon: That’s all I’ve got today.
Pierson: Guys, as always, thank you so much for listening to the show. If you liked it, give us a like. Give us a five-star review. Maybe a four-star review?
Brandon: No, five.
Pierson: Kidding. Give us a five star review. You check us out on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Alexa, anywhere else Brandon?
Brandon: Yeah, probably other places too.
Pierson: Anywhere that you would wanna listen to a podcast, Google Marketing is the product, and we will more than likely be there. How about that?
Brandon: Works for me.
Pierson: Alright guys, once again, I’m Pierson, this is Brandon, and we’ll catch you next time. See you.
Brandon: See you later.