Laura Roeder | Going from Solopreneur to 7-figure CEO

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If you’re transitioning from being a freelancer to building your own company - and you’re struggling (who isn’t?), you don’t want to miss this talk with Laura Roeder. She was a freelance designer and is now CEO of a 30-employee company that offers the popular social media automation tool, Edgar.

As the owner/founder, you’re often the bottleneck slowing your company’s progress. Laura has solid tips for recognizing and overcoming your self-inflicted obstacles to growth.

She also shares strategies for avoiding social media burnout and using this marketing channel effectively.

Check out this episode now to find out…

  • Ways to avoid “Monkey in the Middle” Syndrome
  • How to make sure you’re actually delegating
  • Which type of people you need to take your business to the next level
  • A social media strategy that gets results - and takes less work
  • The two types of social posts getting the most traction now

 

And that’s just a small taste…

Listen now…

Laura Roeder | Going from Solopreneur to 7-figure CEO

In this episode, we're talking with Laura Roeder. Laura is the Founder of Meet Edgar, a social media automation tool designed to prevent status updates from ever going to waste. She’s given talks at conferences like Blogger and South by Southwest. She’s spoken about the value of independent entrepreneurship at the White House. She's also appeared in Forbes, Fast Company, Mashable, CNET and other major publications. I'm excited to have you here on the Unstoppable CEO. Welcome.

Thank you, Steve. I'm happy to be here.

To give everybody a little bit of context, can you talk a little bit about the journey you've been through so far that has gotten you to this point?

This is my tenth year as an entrepreneur. I should write a blog post or something. I should commemorate this. This is my tenth year working for myself full time. It’s been a very gradual journey over those ten years going from being a freelance designer to now a CEO, this role at Meet Edgar. Our team is about 30 people. This is the first company that I've had where I've had the opportunity to be a true CEO of a team. It’s still a learning experience for me for sure. Edgar has been around for about three and a half years now. I started out as a freelance designer, moved into doing social media consulting work, and then social media training. Now I have a social media software company.

That journey is one that an awful lot of people look at right now as the growth path. It started off in freelancing and then maybe build some products and then move into software. From the outside anyway, you made that process look pretty a smooth and pain free. What are some of the things that you've had to draw on over the years to push through when things didn't quite go your way?

There are a few things that I like to think about. One is truly staying present to what's happening right now. It always makes you feel better, because when we're upset, when we're thinking about everything that's going wrong, it's amazing how many of those things are fantasies in our head, either about what's going to happen, what other people are thinking, and what other people's motivations are. When you look at a problem with company, you can start to spin out, “It's all going to go wrong. It's all going to go downhill now that this thing has happened.” Going back to what's happening, am I alive? Do I have my health? Do I have my family? Even looking at what's going on at the company, did everyone quit? Did we lose all of our customers? Luckily, I haven't been in those situations. Those situations can happen sometimes too but it's not the end of the world. Focusing on what's happening right now and what do I know to be true, not stories I'm making up about other people, that's very grounding for me.

 Focus on what's happening right now and what you know to be true.

Focus on what's happening right now and what you know to be true.

 

That’s critical and we do that. We look at the outside world. I heard Dan Sullivan on a podcast talking about this. He's like, “Everybody's walking around doing this comparison in their head. You're comparing all of the trash in your life and in your business and everything that you see behind the scenes with everybody else's polished and pretty front stage projection of what things are,” and it's unfair. Things typically aren't nearly as bad as we want to tell ourselves that they are.

We are thinking that they're bad compared to some arbitrary stand. Right now in the business, we're trying to get our profit margin up. I'm not happy with the profit margin. I want it to be higher. I got this idea that it should be high and I would like it to be higher. It is something we're working towards, but it's good to remember that it is truly an arbitrary thing that I came up at the end of the day. We have this goal for the business, for the profit margin to be this much, because you can get caught up in, “I'm a huge failure because of the profit margin.” You decided you were a failure. Don't decide that.

We all tend to do this. I've been in meetings with business owners who had $50 million, $75 million a year businesses who had hundreds of employees, and it goes through the same thing. It doesn't matter the size of the business. Often they're not any more in line about it than somebody with a smaller business. For me, understanding that it's useful to take a step back sometimes and ask yourself, number one, “Am I alive?” keeping it to these basic things to me helps because as business owners it's easy for us to walk ourselves out onto the ledge. You talk about the stages that you've been through. You started out as a freelancer then you had an agency. From there, now you've got a software company. How has it changed for you in terms of the growth you've had to go through to go from each of those stages?

For me and for a lot of business owners, it's this constant process of not making yourself the monkey in the middle. When you first started out and you are a freelancer, you're not just the monkey in the middle, you're the only the only monkey in town. It’s all you all the time. I didn't bring in help and say, “You do it,” I brought in help and I said, “I'm going to tell you exactly what to do and then you're going to do it. Then I'm going to check over it and make sure you did it exactly that I wanted you to do it.” You're saving a little time sometimes or just creating more work and there's this evolution from you're doing things to you delegating and checking on things, to you releasing more control.

You can't be a CEO and you can't have a team until you've taken yourself out of that monkey in the middle role. People aren't asking you about every decision. You're not approving everything. It’s a gradual process for me. I have a marketing background, so that's the part of the company that I'm the most attached to. When I'm constantly working, I'm not being the monkey in the middle. In marketing, it doesn't happen overnight. That’s always what I'm looking at. Where am I blocking the company? Where am I limiting the company thinking that everything has to come from me or be my idea?

In your evolution, you've built a software company. I assume you're not a programmer. Maybe you have an advantage there because for a lot of folks who will make that transition from very small business where they're doing everything to bigger version of a small business, it's still doing the stuff that they knew how to do. It's difficult to disconnect, but one of the keys is when you can flip that switch. You’re not just taking the stuff you used to do and giving it to somebody else. You're actually hiring people that are smarter than you in some other areas and they're coming up with the ideas and they're beginning to drive things. That's when you know you've got a business that's going to go somewhere.

It's actually been a huge blessing not being a developer because I can't fix it when it breaks. I don't have the temptation to do it myself. I have no idea what to do if the software goes down. Other people have to handle that. It’s forced me to have huge areas of the business that I'm not super closely involved in in that way.

That’s a huge help as you're trying to build something that will function as a true business rather than just an extension of you, to be able to give yourself that space. What was it like the first time you had to hire somebody that was going to go do a job that you didn't know how to do? Is that a little scary?

I find it liberating. Not to say that it was easy every time, but I'm definitely the type of person that is happy to delegate things. At first, I had this limiting belief that other people couldn't do things. When I finally realized there are billions of people in the world, and lots of people can do things, not just me, when you embrace other people and you just take things over, it's so liberating. It's something I still am super grateful for every day. The stuff I hate to do, now I don't have to deal with any of the stuff about administering benefits to the company and figuring out our health plans and doing the paperwork. We are a remote company so our employees are in tons of different states. There’s all this paperwork to keep up with and when I see that stuff go past my desk and I'm like, “Someone else did this,” that makes me so happy. I'm so glad that there are people that enjoy doing these types of things. It feels great and it's so freeing to give that responsibility to someone else and let them own it.

Congratulations to you for having the guts to do it. Not everybody does and we work with a lot of different businesses and some business owners have a hard time letting go of that stuff. The closer it is to their wheelhouse, the harder it is for them to let go of. It’s such a great feeling. I never forget my first company. We got up to a little bit bigger than you are now in terms of number of employees, but it was awesome when we got to the point where I had some folks who were good at what we did and I could leave. I would leave and I'd come back and stuff was done, and it was done better than I would've done it because they had a better idea than I was going to come up with. It’s amazing to watch that evolution and it is fun to watch people grow into that.

Something that was unique for me is I was pregnant when we launched Edgar. We launched in July of 2014. My son was born in January of 2015. I decided to take three months leave, totally off, which I did in the first year of a business. It’s an unusual thing to do. Then I worked part time for the next year after that too. I would advise everyone to be pregnant, because it's such a great constraint when I was building. When we were launching Edgar, I know I'm going to have the baby. I know in six months I'm not going to be here to do everything. In retrospect, it forced me to build a structure much earlier than I would have for things, like the product and customer service and the operations of the business. Maybe if I hadn't been pregnant, I would have thought, “I'll work with that person to decide how to do it.” Since I knew, I wanted to be totally out. I'm like, “I'm not going to be involved with customer service. I'm just going to tap someone do that so that they don't ask me questions. They need to be able to do it totally on their own right for that period while I'm gone,” and that worked out.

Great story and congratulations on getting there. You have built a successful company and frankly a great tool in Edgar. We use it. It’s what powers our social media. I'd love to talk for a little bit about how you came up with the idea, some of the process that you went through to build that out, and some of the great things that you guys are doing right now.

The software actually came directly from my training business before. Before I launched Edgar, I had online classes training entrepreneurial about how to do social media marketing effectively. I had this realization, why are people creating new multiple pieces of new custom content every single day, day in and day out, throwing them away every day to start from scratch the next day? When you look at your numbers and what's called your reach on social these days, it's usually about 5%. It's really low. Of the people that follow you, you will see any given thing that you tweet or Facebook or whatever it is, it’s like 5% to 10%. It doesn't make sense to send out an update once to 5% of your audience and then never send it out again. It creates a huge amount of work, especially for a small business owner that doesn't have the 20% marketing and online media team working for them.

I started doing this methodology and teaching it to my clients and create a library of content that you repeat, especially for things like your blog posts and your podcasts, which most small businesses, most of this content is what's called evergreen as it is still useful. It's always green. It is still useful in the future. Most small businesses are not doing investigative journalism where they're writing a story that's hot today and useless tomorrow. They're writing about best practices and telling stories about customers. Most of the content is still good years later, so why not create a library of all that content and then cycle through it over and over again.

I was teaching people to do this. I have this proprietary little spreadsheet, and at the time what I had to do is copy and paste each update from the spreadsheet and put it in a social media scheduling tool. I had to do it over and over again every week. I'm like, “This is bananas. Why doesn't my social media tool store my social media updates, much less send them out again and again. At least give me a library.” That’s been surprising that more of our competitors haven't taken that library aspect at the least. Many of the major tools still don't even have a library, which is weird to me. If you don't use Edgar, this is what Edgar does. This is what I was teaching people to do. The way it became a software is my husband Chris is a software developer and I was complaining to him like, “Why do I have to copy and paste all the time? Why do we have to do all this manual work?” He said, “I could sell software that does that.” I said, “Good idea. Let's build it.” That's how the company started.

You’re not the only one feeling that pain, I can tell you, because we were feeling that pain probably at the same time. It literally is a pain in the backside to have to do that. With all the different places that you've got to be active on social, to be in front of your audience wherever they are, not automating is a huge mistake. I get asked all the time because we use Edgar, we've talked about it with our clients, they go, “Isn't somebody's going to get upset that they've seen it twice now? What are the odds? What are the odds that Facebook is going to show it to them again, because only 5% of them see it? They probably were scrolling through it looking for cat pictures anyway so they skipped over our article. It’s crazy not to do it.”

This is common. As the business owner, we have this idea that people are going to be angry if they see us post the same blog post twice, which makes no sense when you think about it. If you think about, first of all what it means to go viral, that means that you see it everywhere. It means you see the same link in twenty different places and you finally click one of them because you've seen it so many times. That's what going viral means. What if they know that we sent out our blog post more than once? They expect you to do that.

Have you ever watched TV? It's not new commercials every day.

It’s an unfounded fear. People always worry about it for their own business. If you start observing how you see you use the internet, you see the same content all the time, you often follow someone on Twitter and on Facebook, and you read their email newsletter. You're still lucky if you come across their latest blog post out of all those sources. You certainly don't mind that you see it all the places if you do.

One thing that's important and one of the things that the Edgar helps with is allowing you to be in all of those places all the time. From the customer's perspective, if they're following you, they want to see your stuff. It reinforces the story that they have in their head about you that, “I'm following Laura. She’s somebody worth following.” The reason that she’s somebody worth following is because I keep seeing her everywhere, so she must be important. You’ve got to create that experience for your customers, whether that's on a big scale or if you're a little tiny local business. My wife has this little boutique that she loves to shop in and they fill up her Instagram posts. They fill out mine too because I have to follow it because I got to know what she likes so I know what to go buy for birthdays and Christmas. They’ll post twenty different things at a time. They may be recycling some, but you can be there a lot and it's okay.

 It's okay to tell people what you sell.

It's okay to tell people what you sell.

 

You pointed out something that people often overlook, that social media is all opt-in. Everyone who follows you on social has chosen to be there. When someone follows our Meet Edgar account, they want to buy or have already bought social media software. It does not say free pizza. It says Meet Edgar social media automation tool for small businesses, and we get nervous about like, “I don't want to bombard them. I don't want to overwhelm them. I don't want to be too spammy. I don't want to promote myself.” The only reason they are there is to engage with your business. You showed them what the page was about. Give them lots of content about your business. That's what they want.

What were some of the things that your most successful clients are doing inside of Edgar and with their social media? What do you feel like is making the difference right now?

It sounds simple and some people are a little nervous about it, but you probably should be posting more than you are. It’s what we often see. People get nervous about posting too much. It's something that you can always experiment with, you can always dial back. It's just the nature of how fast social moves that if you're posting more, you're giving people more opportunities, or doing things like posting in other time zones. If you have customers in Asia, you are on the opposite time zone from them. Maybe they see very little or nothing of what you post, especially on a platform like Twitter, which is chronological. It’s a simple thing to do for people to usually post a little more than they do.

People need to also remember to not be afraid to be promotional. I don't know if it's the people that we attract at Edgar. There are the business owners that go crazy with the all caps, all promotion all the time that are doing it too much. Our customers tend to be the “I don't want to bother anybody” type of people. It's okay to tell people what you sell. You're going to do a lot of linking to your free content and to other people's blog posts and free content. That's going to be the majority of your social media updates. Like the boutique you mentioned, take a picture of your merchandise, tell people that you're having a sale on Friday, tell people that you're having an event, link directly to your opt-ins. If you have a business model where you're giving people a white paper or whatever in exchange for an email address, link to that directly on social media regularly.

This is something that people often never send out on social. It’s hard without a tool like Edgar to make sure you're doing it every week, every month, whatever. We have a free eBook about blogging that people love that's popular. We see an increased rate to customer conversion when people look at the book. To me, it's on our blog, we have an annoying slide up, everybody knows about it. No, most people do not know about it. Most people have not read it. You need to tell people directly, “We wrote this awesome book. It's useful. Maybe you would like to read it.” These are easy things you can do to get more leverage out of social media.

You make good points there. We tend to hold back because the perception is that on social, at least with the organic posts, it's one thing if I'm going and buying ads. With the organic posts, you have that perception that we're at a cocktail party. You don't want to be the guy at the cocktail party who cornered you about Amway and stuffed his card in your pocket. You want to be a little cooler than that. While there is that vibe on social, when I get on Facebook, I have yet to be offended by an ad. In fact, some of that stuff I actually find interesting and I click on it. I go and it's useful.

You have to remember that you're promoting a business. We're talking today about social media as a marketing channel. The reason that it gets a little lost is because people are also using social for fun. Facebook is a huge channel to promote my business and it's where I see the latest picture of my nephew. I do both of those things on Facebook. Sometimes people are feeling a little weird, they’re like “I'm straight up promoting my business.” That's why it's important to create separate entities for your businesses. It is true that a lot of people make the mistake of promoting their business on their Facebook personal profile, which doesn't make any sense from a marketing perspective. Those people don't want to hear about your business. They're not your customer.

I got a message from a family member the other day asking me to write a review of her horse business. I'm like, “I love you. I have never interacted with your horse business. I don't live where you live. I don't know anyone who does. I am not a good prospect to promote for you. You want people who actually liked the page, who are interested in your horse business.” You do have to draw that line. Use your personal profile for the fun stuff, for the sharing, for the connecting with people. For your business accounts, the reason that they exist is to market your business. Marketing means more than just shouting at people and stuffing your business card in their pocket. You're also providing value providing content. At the end of the day, the reason that you're spending time on social is for your customers and for your business.

Have you seen any big trends in terms of the platforms? I know they're always changing. Facebook has had a big lead, particularly in terms of advertising. In the different forms of posts that you can put up there, what do you feel like is changing right now? Where should people be focusing?

All the platforms love video and images right now, especially video. The way to think of it as an entrepreneur is the platform always have things that they want you to do. You have to measure that against the best use of your time. Right now, Facebook and Instagram want you to create live content. They want you to create stories on Instagram that expire in 24 hours, which does not make sense for 99.9% of small business owners. That is a lot of content for no lasting impact after it's gone.

Probably small reach in that time.

Very small reach. Sometimes people get swept away and like, “Instagram will rank you better, Facebook will rank you better if you're doing videos or live videos.” I've been playing around with Facebook live. Sometimes I'll just hop on for five minutes and say, “We have a new blog post, here's what it's about.” It's interesting to see, does that help our engagement with other posts when I do that? It can help because Facebook is rewarding you for what it wants you to do, but you have to be mindful that this is a marketing strategy for your business. It doesn't matter if Facebook wants you to do all live video. If that's going to take you eight hours a day, I don't think you're going to get that reward for your business. Look at the trends of what's ranking well.

The cool thing is so many people don't utilize their own analytics. You can go in all the platforms and they give you detailed data about what posts are doing well and who's looking at them. You don't have to go crazy analyzing it. Once a month, look through your top performing post. If it's videos, maybe you put that in your rotation more with Edgar. You can post a video straight from Edgar. Maybe you're just creating three videos that you’ll have then to keep cycling through. You want to pay attention to trends to a degree, but I always warn small business owners like, “You do not have the bandwidth to totally jump on every trend out there.”

I agree completely. We tell our clients to pick one or two. If it’s three, that's probably too many, whether social media or any other way of generating interest in the business. Until you've mastered those and got those working, which always takes a little bit of time, it's going to be hard if you try to do ten at once. Good luck at getting any actual results. Sooner or later, the employees want to get paid. Something has to happen to facilitate that.

I totally agree that it's much better to focus on one channel and figure out how to do it, get a good strategy there, or have the time to be able to engage enough there that people know you there and know you're going to be there. That's much better than being a little bit everywhere.

We’ve mentioned this little boutique here in Florida and they only post on Instagram. They do have a Facebook page, but it’s a ghost town. They haven't updated it probably in three years. I've noticed when they post on Instagram, if they're having a sale on a Saturday or something, that place is packed. It works. Their focus, because they are able to go deep, it's making an impact and that's the one thing that is critical. What’s been interesting in using Edgar and as we've used it, we have a real focus on LinkedIn, but it's allowed us to be present elsewhere without doing any more work. Even though that's not our focus, we can still be over here and so it doesn't look like a ghost town when somebody shows up, if that's their preferred platform even though our active focus is somewhere else.

It’s a nice way to have a little stream of passive traffic. For me, the one that I don't pay attention to is LinkedIn. If I didn't have Edgar, I wouldn't be on there, but because I do have Edgar, I might as well turn Edgar on to post my stuff to LinkedIn. It's fascinating. You go look and I'm getting traffic, people comment, people share the articles that I post with literally no work at all. It’s something where you truly can press a button. If you're not focusing your strategy there, it's not going to be millions of visitors overnight, but it's going to be something that you didn't have before, a steady stream of traffic to your site.

Most businesses don't need millions of visitors. Mostly everybody sees these big hype stories but for the vast majority of businesses that's selling any service, unless it's maybe retail, usually if they're getting an additional 10, 20, 30 customers a month, that can be all they could ever handle. You don't have to look at these crazy numbers that are out there. It doesn't take all that much.

I love your boutique example because it also points out the bar is so low for many businesses. They're probably the only locally owned boutique in town that's doing anything on Instagram. I follow a rug company here in Austin. I bought this beautiful Oriental rug from them and I noticed they had Instagram. I'm like, “I like pictures of pretty rugs.” Now there's no way I'm going to buy it from someone else because I see all the cool rugs and I like them. I've formed an affinity for their company for following them on Instagram. Most local businesses and even service businesses, how many CPAs are doing any blogging or anything with the internet at all just doing this bare minimum? You don't have to have millions of people liking your page. You don't have to blog four times a week. If you can pull it off once a month, if you're consistent with it, and you have a presence on LinkedIn and nothing else, you will be doing better than most of your competitors.

The Congress in the US is debating a new tax bill. What a perfect time if you're a CPA to do a five-minute live stream, “Here's what changed today. Here’s who it's going to impact.” Little things like that can have a big impact. I know your time is valuable so I don't want to steal any more of it, but where can people go? What's the best place for them to begin finding out a little bit more about Edgar and finding out a little bit and getting educated on the strategies they should be using?

Go to MeetEdgar.com. We have a great blog. The whole angle of our blog is breaking down what's happening on social, all the changes, all the trends, so that it applies to the small business owner. You read this stuff about Facebook changing their algorithm, like you said, you have to do live video and you start panicking. That’s what we specialize in our blog. Read through all the news, read through all the boring help documentation that Facebook has published and say, “If you are a small business owner or a solo business owner, does this actually affect you? How can you make the most of it?” A lot of listeners would find that valuable. We’re @Meet Edgar on all the social platforms and you can find me on Twitter @LKR.

Laura, thanks so much for investing some time with me. This has been a lot of fun. I appreciate everything that you've shared.

Thank you.

Mentioned in the show

Steve Gordon

101 North Monroe Street, Capitol Hill, FL, 32301