Aaron: [00:10] Hi, I am Aaron.
Micah: [00:12] And I’m Micah. And you are listening to the WP square one podcast. With us today is Brian
Brian: [00:29] This is my favorite podcast intro by far of all time at this point.
Micah: [00:36] So Brian has done all kinds of things. He, well I probably shouldn’t even try to explain because you’ve done so much. I think we should let that unfold as we go. So how about you give us the 30-second overview from your point of view of what you’re doing now kind of thing and we’ll go from there.
Brian: [00:56] Yeah, sure. If you look at my website, I’m sure you’ll link it up. That’s where I kind of have just like a running list of all the different businesses, small and large that I’ve worked on over the years. It might look like a lot, but it’s kind of spread out over the course of about 10 years now. I’ve been self employed and kind of, you know, doing a bunch of different things. But basically, I’m a designer and product person by trade. I started out as a web designer doing a lot of work with WordPress. But you know, these days I’m wearing a few different businesses hats and
Aaron: [02:33] Cool. Yeah, I believe you’ve got significantly more products on your website than I do. So
Brian: [02:53] Yeah. A lot of the people who know me, what they tell me all the times that like, I’m the process person. You know, I’ve built some very process oriented businesses, so what kind of pays the bills right now while I’m working on ProcessKit is my business called Audience Ops which is a productized service where my team handles blog content writing and blog content production for a variety of clients. And actually, we now do podcast production as well. But you know, that’s all basically running without me. It has completely freed me up now. So the team basically does everything in that business and I have all this time to work on a new product. But the reason why that’s the case is
I’m building ProcessKit to make running a business easier. @CasJam on https://processkit.com/Tweet
Micah: And you mentioned a productized service, so for those who may not know, can you explain a little bit about product versus service and where that kind of fits in the spectrum?
Brian: Yeah, so productized services have been something that I’ve been very into the last few years. I have a course and a community of people who are building or converting to a productized service. And, I find, or what I found in my career, was that it’s a really good next stepping stone after you’ve been kind of freelancing or consulting for a while, where you can make that transition away from, you know, billing by the hour or even if you’re billing per project. You know, a lot of freelancers like myself a few years back, just doing any project for any client in a variety of different ways, using all sorts of different tools, different problems solving for every client. You’ve got to write these custom proposals. You know, you’re negotiating over price and scope and, and you’re kind of change to your, to your desk doing, doing work for all sorts of clients. And it’s really hard to free yourself out of that routine when you don’t have a very focused value proposition. You’re not solving a single problem for a single type of client. And then, you know, with a productized service, once you do that, once you, once you build very focused solution, then you can build processes around it. You can put teams in place, you can hire people to replace yourself from that process. It makes it much easier to hire and grow a team when you have a very predictable way of doing things and thing that you do for clients. So I try to help consultants and agencies kind of move to that sort of model because what I’ve found, I’ve done this twice now. I first I did restaurant engine, which was a website builder built on WordPress, which kind of became a productized service. And then I sold that business in 2015 and then I did audience ops, which is running through today. And, in both of them, I’ve been able to kind of remove myself from all of the day-to-day activity by focusing on this productized service model, which then, you know, you can leverage into building other products. It kind of buys your own time back. So that’s kind of why I’ve been so into that over the last few years.
Micah: [06:43] So what was kind of the key moment for you? I’m sure you probably didn’t start out having high leverage on your time by having all these processes in place. So what was the key moment for you when you realized, you know, it clicked and
Brian: [07:03] Ah, yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I don’t know if that, it was like one moment. It was probably just a lot of moments kind of stacking up one after another. I was freelancing for a couple of years as a, as a web designer doing a lot of work with WordPress. And it kinda got to a point where I became pretty, this happens to most freelancers, right? You get, you get good at freelancing. You get good at going through the routines and working with clients and then you start raising your rates and you’re getting bigger and bigger projects. But then at a certain point after you’ve been at it for a couple of years, or maybe even sooner than that, you know, you hit a point where it’s like, oh, is this it? Like am I just going to keep turning out proposals and then doing another project? And that started to get to me after awhile. It’s like even though I might be raising my rates and getting bigger projects, it wasn’t like my enjoyment of doing that sort of work was getting better and better. It was kind of getting worse. It even got to a point, if you ask about a single moment, there’s probably happened a couple times, but I just remember, you know, closing a pretty big project, pretty big contract. The client signs on the contract. I get a big check and I had this feeling in my stomach like, “Ugh”, like I was not happy. This should be a time that you’re celebrating a big new client, a big contract. But I felt like the opposite because I was like, oh, now my next four months are shot, you know, and I’m going to be stressed out with this. And that’s when I kind of kind of realized like, okay, it’s time for me to actively change what I do for a living.
“Okay, it’s time for me to actively change what I do for a living.” @CasJam on moving from freelancing toTweet
You know, cause a lot of us quit our jobs and went freelance and yeah, you’re technically free to manage your own time, but then you have all these clients. So maybe you don’t have as much freedom as you thought you did. I kind of ran into that and so that’s when I, and what I try to really consult with people about is like, even though you might be very busy on your projects and you’ve got client deadlines and whatnot, it’s really important to set aside time and even prioritize the time to step back and work on your own business and work on changing the way that you make money. Changing the type of work that you do and just being really intentional about that. And, and you know, those sorts of changes won’t happen overnight. But if you take the time to kind of examine your own business and then, and then see, okay, what can I change? What steps can I take to, change things? I think you’ll be better for it. And then, you know, once I started having that sort of mindset, I’m constantly working on my business and making the changes necessary. It’s not like every day is a breeze, but it’s, it’s just much more, it’s more challenging, but it’s more enjoyable as the years I think.
Micah: [10:07] Yeah. Sometimes I feel like people use
Brian: [10:43] Yeah. Early on, the Big Aha moment was to start to think in terms of problems that you’re solving, not technologies that you’re using or techniques that you’re using.
“Start to think in terms of problems you’re solving, not technologies or techniques” @CasJam on businessTweet
You know, like early on in my career I was really excited about, oh, and you know, this probably dates me a little bit, but the big thing when I was freelancing was everyone wants to go to a responsive mobile responsive website back then in 2011 not everyone had one. You know, that’s just a technology that’s just a technique and designing websites. But you’re not really targeting a business problem. And so once you start to think about who is the ideal customer that you might be working with, start to think through which ones have been the best people to work with. Who do you have the most inroads with so that you can find more of that type of person and then figure out what does that person really care about and what is the problem that you’re in the best position to solve for them. And once you start to have that sort of mindset, you can start to focus on, even though you’re capable of doing a lot of different things, you know, web developers can build anything they want. We know how to figure out whatever we want to build. But it’s actually harder to trim down on that and just focus on the customer and what they really need.
Aaron: So tell us a little bit more about some of the other things I guess you’ve been doing. I know you’ve got your, your productize and scale, which I guess that’s more of an educational platform.
Brian: I’ve been kind of reorganizing my personal blog for a while. That was my personal blog. It was productizeandscale.com and now I kind of went back to having briancasel.com as my main blog. I still have the productize and scale blog there with the articles that are focused on productized services. And then I have a free video crash course on productized services. That’s kind of a good introduction to these things that we’re talking about here. So I spent some time in that community of folks who were doing that. What else? Audience Ops, as I said, is running with a team of about 25 people working remotely today. And it’s been going pretty smooth over the last couple of years.
Aaron: [13:09] Can I ask you a question about the remoteness? Yeah, since I hadn’t said anything and like 13 minutes in, I figured I should. As far as remoteness, so my agency, we’re all remote. How do you guys work? Are you guys all in the same time zone? Are you guys global? Tell me about it.
Brian: [13:27] Not really the same time zone, but similar. So of the 25 people, something like 20 of them
Aaron: [14:27] Okay. That’s interesting. I’m always interested in how other agencies or companies work when it comes to remote, cause we’re a hundred percent remote. We try to get together on a regular basis. But I mean it’s, you have some, some I guess some strengths and weaknesses when it comes to that. You know, one of the things that we tried to do is we all jump on a phone call every morning, which is helpful, but we’re all Eastern. You know, we’re all within the Atlanta area. So just wondering on, on that.
Brian: [15:00] Yeah. Actually on that stuff. You know, I’ve always wanted to have these like big meetups with the team and unfortunately, I haven’t really had a good chance to do it with Audience Ops. I have met some people on the team. Funny enough, my wife has family in the Philippines and we’ve traveled there. And so I met all the people who work in the Philippines. I met all of them. And most of the U.S. people I haven’t actually met in person. Yeah. It’s just like logistically with this size of a team and people coming from so many far off places, it’s just hard to get everybody together. So we haven’t really done that for audience ops. I would like to do that someday though. The other thing about meetings very early on, audience ops today is about three and a half years in, in the first year I tried to have more all team meetings on zoom or Skype or whatever and we do still have a manager’s meeting. The like the four or five managers on the team do get together once every two weeks. It’s, it’s really not that much. And even that call is like 10 minutes long. It’s really short. Like most of our interaction happens on slack and Trello and, and an email and stuff. What I found with those regular daily standup meetings and whatnot in this type of business, everything is so repeatable and so predictable. I mean, we’re literally just turning out the same type of blog content. As the content is unique to each client, but the process and the deliverables are all the same. And all the clients sign up for more or less the same packages. So, so it’s really just kind of like production work. So it’s not like we really have to meet. It’s not like we’re building a new product and every week we’re shipping new features. If we were doing that sort of thing then, yeah, we would totally be meeting daily and talking about progress, but, you know, really just checking in on the status of the production line. It’s not super productive to have meetings I found. So we do have systems in place where we’re communicating daily and slack and, and we do have some, some check-ins and like reports internally and we have like a history of how things are going.
Aaron: [17:20] That sounds like you guys are very streamlined, which I would love for our agency. I think we didn’t take our agency’s seriously met my business partner and me until 2015. So for five years we acted like freelancers. And now that we’ve realized, we need to make our processes better, a little more, streamlined. So, so we can bring people on. You know, the first person we hired, it was a lot to try to explain how the company works. Now we have a lot of documents, you know, a lot of the onboarding processes that honestly, I don’t know anything about. Someone on our team knows about the processes.
Brian: [18:07] Yeah. That’s a big one is onboarding new team members. We also have a very, streamlined, but it’s, there’s a lot of steps in our new client onboarding process. We’ve got a lot, lot more processes than that, but yeah, it’s been really important for us for sure. I have everything kind of documented.
Aaron: [18:28] I might be hitting you up, I guess what 2019 when you have your product out there for everybody to purchase. Cause we’d probably have learned a lot, but there’s probably a ton that we could learn from, from you. Cause it looks like you’ve got clicking through. Like it gave me a link to your sites. I mean you’ve created a lot of companies and sold a lot of companies.
Brian: [18:51] Yeah. Well with ProcessKit (that’s ProcessKit.com), the new thing that I’m working on right now is just kind of a landing page describing what it’s going to be. It’s been kind of fun for these last few months because when you enter your email then it goes to a quick survey to kind of ask about processes in your business. But then I invite you into a private Facebook group and or a private Slack. You could choose either one. All these other agency owners and people who are running all sorts of businesses, they’re kind of talking and giving feedback about processes and I’ve been showing like designs and some video screenshots of video walkthroughs of the upcoming product and getting feedback on, on like how it’ll work. So that’s been a really fun process.
Aaron: [19:42] I’m gonna sign up. I might be a good fit for what you’re doing. Awesome. Interesting stuff. I think what you said is funny. You said 2011 might date you. And I’m thinking man, that makes me really old because in my perspective,
Brian: [20:26] Well, I was, I mean, I’ve worked for a web agency in New York, that was like 2005 and then we’re talking about IE6 and table-based layouts and all that fun stuff. And then I went out on my own freelancing. That was the beginning of 2008 I believe.
Aaron: Is that when you started using WordPress?
Brian: Yeah, I think I started using WordPress right after I went freelance. I don’t think I was really using it much in the agency yet, but yeah, I started playing around with it probably in ’08 or ’09 and then actually my first attempt at a product, although I mean it worked for awhile was a WordPress themes shop called theme jam. And I launched that I think in ’09 or 2010. And I was lucky enough to be one of the batches of theme shops that was listed on WordPress.org so that brought in some traffic and my first sales. And so that was my first taste of selling digital products that weren’t, you know, client work. I held onto that little site and it had like three or four themes that I was selling through my own site and held on to that from 2009 up until 2015 when I sold it for a very low amount to somebody in an entrepreneur community that I’m in. And unfortunately, like he took it and then kind of shut it down. He just didn’t have time to focus on it and I was kind of bummed about that, but it was a little side income for all those years. I just didn’t have time to focus on it, so I wanted to give it to someone else.
Aaron: [22:14] Gotcha. Yeah. That’s like ’09 I guess would be a great time. If I could go back, you know, this is WP Square One. If I could go back to square one, you know, I probably would have done some themes, you know, in ’08 or ’09. Because that’s just a prime time to be in that market. Now there’s a lot of people out there selling stuff.
Brian: [22:38] Yeah. I remember discovering WooThemes and StudioPress and Jason Schuler with Press 75 and IThemes, you know, that group. I remember discovering them at that time and just being completely amazed at what these companies were doing. I had never even thought about the concept of selling any sort of digital products. I was a freelance web designer. I thought that’s all there was. And then I kind of stumbled upon what WooThemes was doing and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m using WordPress. I could build WordPress themes.” I never thought that I could sell products like that.
Aaron: [23:20] And what made you think that? Like, what was the switch where you, where you’re like, I can do this?
Brian: [23:26] Yeah. I think just looking back on it, maybe I was kind of naive. I was just so excited about the idea of selling products and seeing somebody else or other people making products out of things that I was already making on a regular basis. Like websites built with WordPress. I already knew exactly how to design and build what they were selling as digital products. And so it wasn’t like something that was so elusive. Like, you know, that I felt out of my reach. It was like I literally know exactly how to build that. I just need to put in the time to do it. And, and I did it. I mean marketing, it wasn’t, it was another story which I really knew nothing about. And I spent the next few years kind of learning a lot about marketing and things, but yeah, it was just kind of exciting too. I think that that also started my interest in working on things.
Aaron: [24:22] Even, even if I might not get paid for them, you know, a lot of people are free to do that. Like, you know, if you’re a freelancer, you’re working with clients, obviously you want to make sure you’re getting paid and everything and you want to, you value your time very heavily. But I think back then I was just so excited about all the, all these possibilities that I didn’t mind. And I was younger. I was in my twenties you know, not married, didn’t own a house, didn’t have kids back then. So I was totally fine with pulling all nighters and through the weekends, just hacking on little product ideas on the web. It was fun, you know? And I saw it as a learning experience, I still do, you know, just try and try new stuff out. Even if you, it might not work, at least you’re going to learn and get better. So.
Micah: [25:08] So with your products and things that you’ve come up with what is kind of your approach to, you know, when you have an idea, kind of validating that and making sure that you know how long to spend on it before it’s not worth your time, or that kind of thing?
Brian: [25:31] Yeah. I think now that I’m a little bit older and been at this a little bit longer, I take a much more methodic and strategic approach. So I run into new ideas all the time and I’ve got a list of shiny object ideas in my notebook. I usually just start by writing it down and get it out of my head and, and sometimes, you know, it might not be the right time for me to pursue a new idea. I might be just in the middle of of another business or something and it, and it would just be too much of a distraction. But if I’m really excited about the idea, I’ll just go ahead and spend an hour and write out a long notes document. You know, what I think this product should be about, how it might work, what I might price it at, who would be the customer, what would be involved, and just get those ideas out of my head and onto a piece of paper that that’s a good first step. And then the next day, the next three days, if it just keeps bugging me, like I keep thinking about that idea and if it seems like an opportunity, then I’ll kind of explore further. Otherwise it’s just an idea that sits in my notebook and maybe I’ll never touch it again. The next step, if I’m serious or if I’m looking for something new to work on, my next step is to run it in front of potential customers. And I have an audience now of people I’ve built, I’ve been blogging and building my email list for several years. So that’s my go-to place is I’ll go to people on my email list and I’ll show them or present some new idea to them, like ProcessKit, what you see right now, that landing page was the first thing that I showed people. I wrote out, I drafted a few different drafts and then I wrote out this kind of manifesto about the problem that I want to set out to solve with ProcessKit. And I put that out there too to my audience. And the thing is, I’ve also started to learn who my audience is and I tend to gravitate towards ideas that I think really solve problems for them. I am much more likely to do products that would fit my audience well rather than just finding a random opportunity out there somewhere. For example, I did spend three or four years working on Restaurant Engine, which was a kind of a SAAS productized service built on WordPress, a website builder built on WordPress for the restaurant industry and I learned a ton. I built that to a significant product business and then I sold it. But one of the reasons I sold it was because it was so disconnected from my people and from my audience. I wanted to get more into products that are, that serve people who I was already connected to and I had an easier time making inroads with and learning from. So that’s, that’s kind of where I, where I try to focus.
Micah: Gotcha. You mentioned earlier that you actually use virtual assistants from within your business is and that kind of thing. Do you use virtual assistants at all to help you with other things that are more personal, like processing ideas or, I dunno, research?
Brian: Actually no. I mean, I know a lot of people do that. I’ve kind of tried that in the past, but now, our VAs are there, they’re really just doing roles within Audience Ops, like very specific roles in our processes. So in audience ops day handle taking the written articles from Google docs and setting them up and WordPress and configuring all the settings and setting up email newsletters, setting up social media posts, and they have processes that they follow for that. I manage my email inbox myself. I manage my calendar, or Calendly manages my calendar, and that’s just more comfortable for me. I’ll book my own flights, I’ll book my own
People love to say, “Oh, you should delegate everything”, but I only delegate when there’s a clear process. @CasJam on delegationTweet
Aaron: [30:26] Nice. So question for you about VAs. How’d you find the ones in the Philippines?
Brian: [30:32] Over the years. I’ve, I’ve done a few different things. I’ve tried Upwork, which I’ve had some, some successes with, some hit and miss that the service that I’ve been using, which can be a little bit hit and miss, but I still go back to it is called, virtualstafffinder.com and it’s like a one-time fee and then they kind of do the legwork of finding three, pre-vetted candidates and they just give you their contact info and some info about them and then you can basically interview those three candidates. Sometimes I’ll hire one out of the three sometimes two. And again, it’s been a little bit hit and
Aaron: [31:22] Oh, that’s excellent. So that’s cool. Yeah, I know a lot of things are a mess when you’re hiring a complete stranger. Unless you can go to the Philippines and meet them.
Brian: [31:35] Yeah, I mean, I met them a year after they started working.
Aaron: [31:40] Yeah, that’s, that’s cool. Micah, you got questions?
Micah: [31:44] Oh, I’ve got lots of questions, but I say we lead in with our primary question.
Aaron: [31:49] Okay. I wasn’t sure if it was that time.
Micah: [31:53] Well, I think this will lead off into other questions
Aaron: [31:58] Let’s do it. I’ll do it. So the podcast is called WP Square One. And I had said before, going back to square one. So Brian, if you were to go back to square one, what would you do differently?
Brian: [32:12] Well, which square one, right? Are we talking about like say, back when you’re a freelancer and you’re frustrated with how things are going and you wanted to change things? Yeah, well, I think that the thing that that really sticks out is just like, I stumbled into these things after a couple of years of, of freelancing, which was like products and marketing and even even entrepreneurship, like the term or being an entrepreneur. I did not think of myself as an entrepreneur when I, when I went freelance, I, when people ask me what I did, I said I’m a web designer and it’s weird because it was in my blood. My father is self-employed, my grandfathers both owned businesses, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t one of those things that I had always set out to be an entrepreneur. But after like two or three years of doing the freelance web design thing, I started to just stumble into entrepreneurship podcasts like the WordPress themes market. That was my first entry point into selling digital products. But from there I got into listening to Mixergy interviews and then other business podcasts. I wish that I had, discovered that stuff a little bit sooner and maybe been a little bit more intentional about being a business owner. I’m not just this person who works by the hour. I stumbled into that eventually, but it would have been nice if I had made that shift in mindset a little bit sooner. What was I going to say? The other thing that comes to mind; so I’ve been self-employed since 2008, so more than 10 years now, and I think the first three or four years of that I was alone. I was working in my bedroom alone and a few contacts here and there, you know, on Twitter and whatnot. But like I did not get out to conferences and meet people once I started doing that. I’m not even a huge conference goer but over the last five or six years I started to really get into a few key communities of other entrepreneurs and people who are self-employed, who I have a lot of things in common with. And we live in all different places, but we not only, we stay in touch online through, through Twitter and Skype and email and stuff, but we, we do make a point to go meet up in person. And, and have fun together. So like, like one of the conferences I go to is Microconf every year in Vegas. It’s kind of for bootstrapped entrepreneurs. A lot of my circle of friends go there. But the other thing that I’m very passionate about now is this idea of tiny conferences. And so Brad Touesnard, who is another WordPress person, he and I have been friends for a couple of years and, and we, we put together what we call big snow, tiny comp. It’s a, we get 12 business owners together in a house in Vermont when we go skiing and snowboarding. And we talk about business for three days. Since we started that about six years ago, another one has to, our other friend started the same thing in Colorado and I know their friends started one in Europe. I go to these small meetups or tiny conferences if you will, and these are my friends. We’re all running businesses and we talk on Slack and in between throughout the year and just having a group of friends and advisors to go to and get to know and follow along with their business and they fall along with my business. It’s been just so valuable, more than people realize. It’s really, really valuable to have a group of people to share ideas with.
Aaron: [36:12] I like that because as a freelancer, so I quit my job in Oh eight also. I’m in my office/extra bedroom and I’m spinning a lot of time by myself and no one to learn from. And I think that’s where, for me at least, the WordPress community has come in, you know, been able to find businesses that are similar to mine and just bounce ideas and ask “how do you do this?”, “How do you do that type thing?”, which is very valuable. So I guess reaching out to those people in your areas is important.
Brian: [36:57] Yeah. And I mean for me, like really all my friends these days, I mean I have a lot of close friends that I grew up with and everything from
Aaron: [37:58] Okay. I was going to say, this sounds like a great excuse to go snowboarding and skiing.
Brian: [38:04] Of course. Yeah. When
Aaron: [38:14] That’s awesome. Well, I appreciate your time and as I said, I’m going to fill out that form on processkit.com. But what are the best ways to reach out to you via Twitter or one of your many websites?
Brian: [38:35] Yeah, so on Twitter I’m @casjam. And then my main website is https://briancasel.com/. I’ll give you guys the link because it’s spelled a little bit weird, but that’s where you can see what I’m up to. I’ve got my email newsletter
Aaron: [38:52] Sounds good. Well, thank you for your time.
Brian: [38:54] Yeah. Thanks for having me on guys.