Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and this week we’ve got a special interview. If you’re in a situation where you feel like you got to win a new client every month, this particular interview I think is going to be really useful for you. I’m talking with Jason Resnick. Jason helps other freelancers through coaching and community to build businesses that are sustainable through niching down and creating recurring revenue.
He’s a freelancer himself, since 2010, absolutely loves serving his clients. We were talking before we turned on the recording that he loves just delivering the service work, and he’s also built a tremendous community, and lots of resources for freelancers, and service professionals who are trying to figure out how do I get to a place where I’ve got a really sustainable and healthy business. Jason, it’s just a pleasure to have you here. Thanks for taking some time and investing it with us.
Yeah. Thanks Steve for having me. I appreciate being here.
Just to give everybody a little of context, why don’t you give them kind of the quick background, what got you to this stage of your career?
Sure. Yeah. Well, thanks for the awesome intro. I mean, that sums up everything that I’m all about, for sure. Yeah. To get to where I am today, I mean, it was a long game, obviously, but it was always something of which I always wanted to do. I wanted to be able to have time, freedom, flexibility to live life, to be there, to hear those first words, and see those first steps of my children, to be able to just take off a random Tuesday afternoon, because it was a nice day out and not have to ask permission to do so.
I knew this way too early in my life. I still remember to this day, which the point of realizing that, and I was a stock boy at the age of 15 at a fabric store, literally organizing zippers and I said, “This is not any sort of fun at all for a teenage boy to be doing,” but obviously not thinking about family and all that, but I just knew at that point in time that I wanted to have my own time, like if I was an adult then I was making decisions for my life, I wanted to be able to do the things I wanted to do.
I loved web development as soon as I first saw it in the late ’90s, mid to late ’90s, while I was in college, I worked for a number of different agencies, both large and small, very niche agencies, and very large body shop type agencies, where it was just, “Hey, we’re billing you out at this rate, go learn the thing that, that client needs you to learn.” I also worked for Fortune 100 companies, as well as, smaller mom-and-pop companies, but I always knew I wanted to freelance, and I went out on my own in the early 2000s as a result of the dot com implosion, where all the startups went away, everything went.
I was part of a large consultancy firm at that point, and they were laying off people left and right and I said, “Hey, I got a skill, I can do web development. I’m going to go out on my own.” Fast forward, about 18 months, I had to go get another job, because my skill was fine, it was all the other things. The business end, the marketing side of things, the sales, the client management. All of those things I don’t have any experience in, so I had to pay bills. I went and got an agency job, because I knew that very, very well, but all the time I knew I was going to learn everything I could, and leave that job, and do it again.
As you said, in 2010, again, I’ve been doing now my own business, my own services business since then, and learning how to delight customers, really be able to create an experience for them in a way that I stand out. I think that, that’s critical to a service based business, because a lot of it is commoditized, but commodity goes right out the window when the experience is memorable, so that’s what I’m big about and trying to do for my clients.
Yeah. I think that’s huge. There’s not an industry, at least that I can think of, certainly not with all the ones we talk with that hasn’t been impacted by commoditization. I love that you focus on experience, because that, to me, that experience and relationship are the two differentiators that are really hard for somebody to take away from you and they’re hard to copy. Relationships are almost impossible to copy.
I mean, everybody gets frustrated by the client that you really want to have that has got a buddy he’s known him since college that is always going to have that account, and the same thing with experience, it’s hard to pull someone away when they just, every time you interact with them it’s all already sort of pre-thought out. I think it’s a great focus. When you went out kind of in the beginning, the first time you made the fore into your own business, it sounds like you didn’t understand how to create that experience and keep the client for the long term, and do all that. What changed?
Well, that first foray was a trail, really. I looked at it as a trial period, because like I said I didn’t know how to build a sales pipeline, I didn’t know how to market myself, I didn’t know how to do those things, so it was always like I was chasing my tail for that next project, and I wanted to be better at that. I wanted to figure out what that was all about, and how do you do that?
Being a technical person like I am, I’m a web developer, I’m in code all day long, so I always wanted to know what the formula was. I’m very analytical and data driven by that, so I didn’t know if there was one. I didn’t know if there was a recipe, or some magic pill that I could take, but when I went back I made friends with sales people, really trying, and as an introvert, myself, or introverted tendencies that was difficult for me. I had to try to get over that hump of this is a different area of the brain that needs to be working all cylinders in order to do this.
I just basically learned from what they were doing, being perceptive, listen. Trying to figure out what all the things I need to do, but also I wanted to make it my own. I wanted my own experience. It had to be natural from end, as well. Yeah. I wanted to get clients, but wanted to get clients that also didn’t mind who I was, and not buy into something that maybe I wasn’t.
When Freelancing Goes Wrong
That for me was critical and I had to find my own way in that to be able to do that. When I started out again on my own in 2010 much of the same, even though I had contracts in place, and I had a plan, and I had marketing. I was doing all the things I guess mechanically that you’re supposed to do, still had pipeline filled, I felt burnt out right around the two year mark again, so in 2012-ish, and it was like, what’s going on, maybe this isn’t for me, like I don’t know why this is so hard.
I was literally drained, but what I found was, and ironically this was at the time at which I just proposed to my then girlfriend now wife and I told her, I said, “Look, I think I’m going to have to go get a full-time job. I think it’s just, I don’t know, maybe this isn’t working for me. I don’t know. There’s just something not right.” Emotionally drained, exhausted, like everything. Burnt out.
To this day, that’s what happened was she looked at me and she said, “But that’s not what you want to do. I know that, you know that, so we’ll figure it out one way or the other,” and I’m like, “Wait, what? You’re telling me not to go get a job?” She’s the rock. She totally, she wants to know where things are, you know, all the ducks got to be lined up in a row, so having her on that up and down rollercoaster that we call the feast or famine wasn’t something that I wanted to do for her, because I knew that chivalry wasn’t built that way.
I really just tried to figure it out. I literally sat on my couch in my apartment at night after a full day of 15 hours of coding trying to figure out and analyze my business. What I found out was that I was chasing my tail because I was very much a generalist, I was a Ruby on Rails developer, I was a PHP developer, and then I’d go back to Ruby on Rails and it was this constant cycle of relearning, or catching up and that wasn’t good for me, for my brain, for anybody that was around me, and I wasn’t positioning myself as an expert in anything.
Yes, I focused in on eCommerce, but it just was more of a dog chasing its tail kind of thing. I literally sat down for about four nights, a good chunk of hours each night, about three to four hours a night analyzing my business, analyzing my clients, analyzing who I was, and what I wanted to do, and what I was passionate about. Then, I didn’t know what I was doing, but looking back on it now I was specializing my business.
So few business owners actually stop to think about what they’re doing. That may be some of the best advice we uncover here today, and I know we have a lot more to go, but that one little act, to me, I think is invaluable. A lot of people just going through the motions and they’re running, and running, and running trying to just keep it going, particularly when the start out.
I remember when I started this business, you don’t know who you’re selling to. You really don’t know how to market to them, or how they’re going to buy. There’s all these unknowns, and so you’re doing all this experimentation and it feels like you’re just on this treadmill where nothing ever works, until you get that one little thing, and then that might give you a clue, but it may not ultimately lead you in the right direction.
It’s just you got this one thing to work, I think sitting down and just analyzing it, I think the way you did it is really smart. For folks listening, I think that’s a takeaway right there that if you’re not doing that, and probably doing it on a regular basis you’re probably not optimizing your business for your own happiness.
Yeah. I’ve done that four times in my business, but by now I’ve kind of got a framework wrapped around it. Yeah. I’ve done that four times, three of which have proven fruitful for my business. One of which, actually had me steer clear of a road I was thinking about going down. It’s definitely something that I value in my business, and I definitely suggest anybody else do the same.
Yeah. That’s great. I want to take a quick break. We’re going to come back, though, and I want to talk about the feast and famine, because your tagline is, Living the Feast, and I know that everybody listening will be able to relate to that, so when we come back we’re going to talk about how living the feast with Jason Resnick.
Welcome back everybody. This is Steve Gordon, we’re talking with Jason Resnick, and Jason tell us how to live in the feast. Number one, how did you come up with that? I think it’s an awesome tagline, but what really drove it? Where did it come from?
Avoiding the Feast or Famine Cycle
Yeah. It comes from the feast or famine cycle, that’s like the notorious hamster wheel of the freelancer. To be able to get yourself out of the famine and stay in that feast. Meaning, having a healthy and sustainable business, meaning you can predictably know where the money’s coming from, know where to go get it, if you need to, service clients in a way that they want to refer you work. All of these things. To build that profitable freelance business, that’s what I call living in the feast.
It took me a long time to come up with that. I’m terrible at naming things, to be honest with you. Rezzz.com with three Z’s, it’s basically my video game handle when I was a teenager, I just never changed it. I’m not one for that kind of thing. It resonated with me, and I knew that it would resonate with a lot of other people as well, and that’s what it is.
As a freelancer you want to get out of the famine all the time, and you want to stay clear of it, and you want to always know where that next project is, because you essentially decided to become a freelancer, start your own business, or ad agency, or a consultant, whatever you call yourself, you ultimately started that because of something else, you didn’t want to work more.
You didn’t want more bosses. You wanted time, freedom. You wanted to travel. Be a digital nomad. You wanted to spend time with your family. Whatever that other thing is that’s what your goal is, so why are we always chasing that next project as our goal? That’s kind of the behind the scenes on living in the feast.
How do we get there? I know you publish a lot of information for freelancers, and I know that you’ve kind of got a methodology for this, so walk us through for somebody listening how they can get to the point where they don’t have to go through that cycle.
Yeah. One thing is, and it worked for me, so I take a page out of Jason Fried and DHH, is dog-fooding, so if it worked for me, it could work for somebody else, is specialization, reaching down, whatever you want to call it. It’s finding your thing that you could be the expert in, and the go to person, so that when somebody says the thing that you do, “Oh, I immediately think of Steve,” “Oh, Jason does this.”
You want that immediate reaction, that knee jerk reaction to be referable in that way. How I go about doing that, and we kind of touched upon it, was I wanted to know how I did it, myself, and when I analyzed it, and brought it back to that time of sitting on my couch at night all hours of the morning, whatever, it was really analyzing what clients I wanted to work with, what clients I didn’t want to work with, and then finding the commonalities between those buckets.
It’s a framework that is as simple as just taking an hour, and for 10 minutes think about all the projects, all the types of people, all the aspirational projects, and companies that you want to work for, and do that for 10 minutes, and take a break, and for another 10 minutes do the opposite of that, and think about just the actual project and/or company, and/or person.
All right? Don’t think about the why’s at this point, and do that for 10 minutes. Then take a break, step aside, come back after five minutes or so, and then do the commonality portion of this exercise, look at the common elements among all of those things that you like, and it could be they don’t micromanagement me, their funny. I enjoy eCommerce work. All of these things. If you can identify a characteristic in about 75% of those projects, you write that down.
How Specializing Can Transform Your Business
Then, you do the same thing for the other projects that you don’t want to work with, and what comes out of that exercise is one you have an immediate red flag list for any client that comes your way. The ones that you don’t want to work with just put that list, and I had this list on my monitor for a long time, just put that list in front and center, because if somebody ticks off a couple of them, all right, it doesn’t matter, and I’m a die-hard Mets fan, but if they show up at my door, knocking on my door, that’s a red flag already, because I don’t want that.
I just encourage anybody to try to figure out the types of projects that you want, get out of that feast or famine is to weed out those bad clients. You really have to focus in on the good clients that you want to work with, and then pass on all the other ones. It’s a hard thing to do the first time, but you will get better at it, and the other projects are right around the corner, anyway. The thing is, the hard thing with my coaching clients that happens is because they’re stuck in that hamster wheel, they don’t have that queue of good clients, they have a lot of bad clients in that pipeline.
I say, “Just keep saying no, until that next one comes,” because if you say, “Yes,” to a bad client today, and it could be, let’s say it’s a low budget, and you don’t want to work with low budget clients anymore, you say, they eat up two weeks of your time with a project, the good client comes after a week what can you do, you can’t start working with them, because time is up. Saying, “No,” to people allows you to say, “Yes,” to the good clients, and that’s the first step, is really to try to figure out what is a great client, and what is a bad client with you, and you sort of take it from there.
You know, it’s interesting, the advice is so simple. Right? You just don’t take the clients that you don’t want, but I know there are people listening to this right now who are maybe in that situation where they’re taking clients that they’d rather not take, but they’re afraid not to. It takes a lot of courage when you don’t have a ton of new opportunities flowing to you to say, “No,” to any of them. How do you work with someone whose kind of in that situation, to push through it?
I say if you’ve done this exercise, you know the bad clients, you have a whole bunch of bad clients in your queue waiting to work with you, you say, “No,” to them. Then you take your good list, and you go find them. Where are those people? Case in point, for me, it’s easy, because I can just rattle it off, but it’s established online businesses.
I don’t want people that don’t have an online business and need an eCommerce store, or whatever, so with an established online business. Small business, less than 15 employees, and somebody whose easy to talk to, and you can’t know that initially, but during the sales process you can do that. I’ll go seek out those things. I’ll look on the social web like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and seek conversations, and if you have no work, and I say this all the time, “Look, if you don’t have anything to do today, spend the next eight hours talking to people.”
It’s just that simple. Just go talk to people. Go find somebody to have a conversation with, because even if that doesn’t become fruitful at the end of the day, and it seems like it was a waste of time, you just had a conversation with a whole bunch of people, and they now know that you’re available for work. Maybe they have a friend, or a colleague, or somebody else that has the thing that you need to do.
The other thing, to your point, is it is difficult. I’ve said to people, a lot of times, is put your price on your website. Let’s say they don’t have the price there. If you want to work with a certain budget, and that’s a must have for you, then you have to put your price on the website, and then they’ll say, “But then all my leads would dry up.” “Okay, where’s the problem there?”
Because you’re wasting all of this time with clients that you don’t even want to work with, so why, if you have zero leads today, that’s great, because those are just tire kickers, anyway. Yes. It’s hard to do, but once you do it, you’ll be like, “Why didn’t I do this before?”
Yeah. Absolutely. It takes a lot of courage, but sort of like learning to ride a bike, there’s no way to learn other than to do it. You’re probably going to fall down a couple of times, you might get a skinned knee, but you got to go do it. Once we’ve niched down, and we know who we want to work with, and you’ve kind of got that focus, and you’re starting to take on those things, what’s the next step?
The next step is trying to figure out a way to differentiate yourself, and the easiest way to do this, and it’s again something that’s so simple, it’s just being yourself, but following up. Showing up to the party and being consistent is critical. I mean, I’ve done some research on this, basically, a decision maker takes five pieces of content to even want to talk to a salesperson.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up… or You’re Leaving Money on the Table
Then, it takes five follow-ups to close a deal. When I say to somebody, and I ran a very informal poll on Twitter back in November, over 80% of people had no follow-up. Over 50% said, “No,” and there was a good chunk, I think, it was like 25% said that they just have an email that says, “Just checking in on it. I just wanted to know the status.”
Oh, my God. No. Not the just checking in email.
I hate that one.
It shocks me, because people are like, “How do I stand out from the crowd?” Well, 41% of salespeople stop following up after one email, so if you want to stand out from the crowd then send a follow-up email, send another follow-up email, send another until you get to five, because that seems to be the magic number, and then if inside each one of those emails you give them a resource, a link, a download, a video, maybe a piece of content that you did, that positions you as somebody who knows what they’re talking about, and can add value to the conversation, and that’s it.
No, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions. Let’s get on a phone call.” None of that. Just sending that email with a value add and a link in there, and maybe a couple of bullet points if you really want to be an overachiever, but that is enough to give them the nudge to say, “Oh, yes, I need to get back to this person.” Right?
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, because I see so many people, in fact I was on LinkedIn earlier, you could do this through LinkedIn and people do it all the time, and I accept somebody’s connection request and they had to have one of those auto responders on there, and I get four paragraphs, four paragraphs, of a pitch, like, I just connected with you on LinkedIn, I don’t even know where you are. I get 50 of those a day.
Two things I think happen. Number one, you get their follow-up because people are afraid to be a pest. They try to cram it into one, which actually ends up in the four paragraph pitch where you’re trying to get everything that you would have said over the course of maybe five short little benign messages all in one, and you’re trying to sell which doesn’t really work, and you’re going after it too fast, you’re trying to create a relationship in all of this and I think that’s what most people forget. They think, oh, I’m in sales mode, so I need to be a sales person instead of just being a person. In listening to these two ideas, I think they tie together in an important way.
You mentioned kind of following up, and maybe sharing a piece of content that you’ve created. I think that’s a huge way to establish your authority, your expertise, particularly when you’re starting out and you’re trying to get traction, if you have a point of view about how to do something that works you’ll get people to pay attention, but the problem is if you don’t do the first step that you shared with us, which is niching down, you can’t create that piece of content, because you’re trying to create for all seven and a half billion people on the planet, and you don’t know what to talk about.
Yes. It does become exponentially hard that way. Yeah.
It’s definitely step one and step two. As a generalist, when I was a generalist web developer I still had a small niche that I worked with, well, it was a rather large niche, it was just eCommerce. Those are the kind of projects that I wanted to work with, so at least I had some level of focus, so even if you are like that, and you just either a developer that works in a certain industry, or likes a certain website type, or if you’re a designer, and you only deal with Figma, the application, and you don’t do Photoshop or whatever.
I’m not a designer, and I could be off, so please don’t scold me on this stuff, but that’s enough, because you’re doing educational processes of yourself to better your business, so those are the links that you need to be sharing with your leads and clients, because then that, it makes them feel better that, oh, at least this person is up to date.
All right. I’m not saying you have to create a brand new one each and every time, have a library of these links, and figure out which one’s fit with the client, or the lead that you’re talking to at that moment in time, so then you can help them better. Start creating that experience. Just as a little side note, a tool that I’ve been really behind lately is Bonjoro, which is a tool that sends a personalized video from your CRM, from your email, from your email service provider, and such, to be able to if somebody fills out your form on your website it pings you on your phone, and you can send a 10 to 30 second customized message. That already, you’re standing out. You just obliterated places like Upwork, and all these others, because they don’t do that.
Well, and that’s how we ended up having this conversation. Right? Because I actually found your website through a podcast, we own a new podcast hosting company, which I think is the one you use.
Transistor, and they were talking about you there, and let me go check this guy out. It was one of those Saturdays where I’m just sort of cruising the web for fun. I landed on your site, and I opted in for something, and a couple of days later I get this weird video email, what in the world, in fact I think you had to send me, it got filtered the first time, and I got a reminder, “Hey have you seen this?” And I went and looked at it. I’m like, oh, wow, that’s pretty cool.
In fact, I think it’s so cool we started doing it ourselves, and we’re only a couple weeks into that, a little experiment, but it’s working brilliantly, because it’s different, and it’s unique, and it creates this experience, and it creates a level of personal relationship that is really difficult to come by in business, particularly if you’re doing a lot of your marketing over the web, like through LinkedIn or something like that, you want to take your level of connection with somebody to the complete next level, something like that.
It doesn’t have to be a video, but I started thinking when you said that to me, like imagine if I’m connecting with someone on LinkedIn, and then the next thing they get from me is that video, and in that video I’m asking them, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to jump on a call and get to know each other?” That’s going to get way more response than just sending them the regular message that everybody is sending, so creating that experience is really important.
I know we’re getting close to our time, here. I want to make sure we talk about recurring revenue, because when I think about living in the feast, and I can tell you from our own business standpoint, I mean we had a good and healthy business before we had a recurring revenue. Then we added recurring revenue, and it’s like I sleep like a baby now.
It’s a night and day difference, and the difference is you create a flywheel effect in the business, so every time you make a sale, it’s not a one-time thing, it compounds on everything else you’ve done before that. With freelancing, how are you approaching this with the people that you coach, for them to build that in? How are you having them think about it?
I have them think about what problems are they solving for their clients, and then is this problem a chronic problem? Meaning, is it something that they’re going to have to solve again? For example, let’s say if it’s a developer who’s creating some sort of custom eCommerce type stuff, or it’s a seasonal business that they cater to, so case in point, one of my coaching clients was all about, for the lack of a better term, like contractors, like landscapers, pool, you know the high end kind of thing, and all of their clients were mindful of the seasons of their own business, but not necessarily online, and so what they were trying to do is try to create a year round type of service for them through online.
Your Clients’ Three Buckets
The idea is you want to figure out what pain point that they have that falls into one of three buckets. One, it’s more revenue, faster. New revenue stream, or doing something that saving them time, which ultimately increases profits on their end. That’s every business’s three buckets. If you could figure out and understand your clients business at that level, you’re no longer a developer, you’re no longer a designer, you’re now a consultant and a strategy partner for them, because you understand their business as well as they do, and what’s important, and you can bring a different level of their business to the game, especially if you’re a designer.
If you’re a designer, you know that you can get foot traffic by moving an address up in a header or, hey, look, if we do some designs tweaks to your website you could get more hallway traffic in your store, but also highlight these products. I’m just kind of spitballing, but you really need to kind of identify something that’s important enough to them to then say, “Oh, this person understands my business. That’s who I want to work with.”
Even the client, if you could do that time and time again that’s where the recurring revenue comes in. I did it based around eCommerce, so there’s tons of different things, like shopping cart abandonment, and product page abandonment, and personalized experiences based around what they’ve already bought. All of these kind of things.
I know all that stuff. I’ve been doing that for a decade. I can help, and I know with a specific marketing plan, hey, this is going to take four, six, 12 months for us to implement, but we could do these other things in the meantime that have incremental steps and goals that we could reach, so that when we finish working together you have a better business.
Your business has a foundation to go then, if you want to do paid ads, or whatever, and drive traffic, all this stuff is in there for you already. That’s how you got to have to think to be, really elevate yourself, and live in the feast. I have eight clients, and two of them have been with me for four plus years, so knock on wood I don’t think they’re going anywhere, but I don’t need to go chase a client down, because I have these clients that work with me on a regular basis.
Yeah. It creates such stability in the business, and it allows you then to focus on longer term bets. You know? I think that’s really critical, particularly with all the craziness that’s out there around marketing right now. I mean, there’s people that are telling you, you got to do paid ads, to a webinar, to a strategy call, I mean, you want to talk about the number of strategies that are out there, there are all kinds of different things you could do that are all focused on how do I get the client, now?
In my experience, that’s not a marketing problem, or marketing is not the tool to solve the oh, no, I got to pay the mortgage, I need a client this week, that’s not where marketing comes in. You can take these longer term approaches when you don’t need the client today to eat tomorrow.
When you’ve got a little bit of runway, now you can start on the client attraction side, really building up some assets that will work for you over a time. That’s where it gets really, really powerful. I love this message of really focus on a problem where you can create that recurring revenue, because it takes a lot of the pressure off of the day to day.
And you standout. For a long time, I’m in the WordPress space, so how I got into the whole coaching and mentoring space, and building a community around community freelancers was people were asking me like, “How do you charge your monthly rates? There’s WP Curve and all these other maintenance programs out there sub $100.00, but you’re charging a few thousand a month, what is that?” “Well, I’m not maintenance. I’m a strategy partner. I help my clients succeed in their goals online, and that’s what I focus on, not a pair of hands on a keyboard.” You really have to differentiate yourself, and you do that one by the personalized experience that you’re giving your clients, and two knowing your clients based around your specialty, and how you can help them best.
Yeah. Absolutely. Jason, this has been a lot of fun. I know we’re about out of time, and I know you’ve got a lot to do, a full calendar, so I just want to thank you, this has been I think really helpful, always for me to hear new ideas, and I hope it’s been really helpful for the audience. I’m sure it has. It gives them some things to think about. How can they go and connect with you further, and kind of get more into some of the things that you’re sharing?
Sure. I’m at Rezzz with three Z’s on Twitter. I’m always on Twitter, my DM’s are open if you want to have a conversation, there or you can head over to my website, rezzz.com, and I have all sorts of resources. My podcast, my daily podcast, where if you have more questions, I’ve got, I think at the time of this recording about 225 questions answered, so you can go binge listen to that. If you have any more questions there, or just reach out to me anywhere else, and I’ll be happy to have a conversation.
Absolutely. We’ll link up all those places in the show notes, so if you’re driving and listening you can find that at our website UnstoppableCEO.net, just look for this episode with Jason Resnick. Jason, thanks again. Great having you on, and I look forward to connecting in the future.
Yeah. Thanks for having me.