Bullhorns & Bullseyes Podcast

The Entrepreneur's Journey

Guest: Stefanie Hays
January 16, 2024

Episode 7

A familiar face and name joins the podcast this week, as Stefanie Hays (Curtis’s better half) joins the show to share her journey as an “accidental” entrepreneur. Stefanie, a former medical sales professional, shares her lessons learned along the way, from leaving a stable and rewarding career to becoming a full-time solopreneur.

 

Fellow solopreneurs Tom and Curtis discuss with Stefanie topics such as time management, planning, and overcoming the stigma of “freelancing.” Stefanie shares her experience in building relationships with clients and the importance of understanding their needs and expectations. The conversation covers the importance of financial education, the focus on client acquisition, the sources of business leads, the power of referrals, and, of course, the impact of sales and marketing.

Play Video about Curtis Stefanie Hays Episode 7 Jpg.webp

Tom Nixon (00:03.598)
Curtis, it is great to be back with another episode of Bullhorns and Bulls Eyes. We have a really a very special guest that I’m gonna let you introduce in just a minute. But before we do, for the people who are watching the video, I went back to the hat this time. What does everyone think? Curtis?

Curtis Hays (00:21.557)
I think it looks great and because you decided to wear a hat after I started wearing a hat, I decided to also put a guitar in my background as well to match your guitar here. So yeah.

Tom Nixon (00:32.998)
I see that. Mine is slightly off screen. There it is and I see yours over your shoulder as well. Yes, we are doing the podcasting thing but we’re gonna go even one step further because I am going to drink from my officially sanctioned bullhorns and bulls eyes bullhorns and bulls eyes mug. Delicious H2O. So, thank you. This was a gift from Curtis to me and uh you have one as well, don’t you?

Curtis Hays (00:56.92)
I do. Yep. They’re, uh, they’re awesome. I, we don’t have a merch. We don’t have a merch page yet for the, uh, the 12 subscribers that we have. But, uh, maybe if we grow the subscriber list, uh, which is a good segue and ask that if you are listening and you like the content we’re putting out, please do like, and subscribe on either YouTube or Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. So we do appreciate that. But, uh, yeah, no, I, I actually, I really kudos to,

Tom Nixon (01:01.134)
Oh yeah, thanks for it. Yeah.

Stefanie (01:03.657)
I’m sorry.

Tom Nixon (01:07.647)
Yeah

Curtis Hays (01:26.936)
to Dan Corcoran, who’s a great creative director who put together this logo for us, which is really just a fun little pet project and the vision that we had for what this would look like. And he did an awesome job. So I had to get it on something physical. And I thought these coffee mugs were a great little thing to do.

Tom Nixon (01:46.994)
Yeah. I’m loving mine. Well, so today we have an interesting topic. I guess loosely defined as solopreneurship and we have an interesting guest who’s going to talk to us about her journey along those lines but she’s also an interesting guest because you go way back with our guest today.

Stefanie (02:06.434)
Thank you.

Curtis Hays (02:07.796)
Yeah, 20 years, believe it or not. Little awkward to introduce our guest today, who’s my wife, Stefanie. So Stefanie, glad to have you on the show.

Stefanie (02:18.03)
Thank you.

Curtis Hays (02:20.86)
It’s awkward in that Stefanie is part of Collideascope and she did join my company and start working with me and left her career, which we’ll talk a little bit about today. But I remember actually the first client we started working together with. And Stefanie’s background was in sales and in account management. I said, hey, you know, could you do some account management for some of my clients? And we went to our first like in-person meeting with.

Stefanie (02:33.315)
Yeah.

Curtis Hays (02:49.664)
A gentleman who’s was very professional, uh, had a very good and reputable business. This wasn’t like some start, a small startup or something like that. And, uh, I respected this individual too, you know, from their background, but it was very awkward to go in and be like, yeah, and this is my account manager. He’s my wife, Stefanie. And, um, I don’t know what I was so nervous about because Stefanie, um, not just.

Tom Nixon (03:08.492)
Hehe

Stefanie (03:08.575)
I’m sorry.

Curtis Hays (03:16.792)
does an amazing job of breaking down barriers and really, uh, you know, getting people to like and respect and trust her. And that’s been a huge help. So I thought it just appropriate to bring her in, in this journey. Cause I know oftentimes entrepreneurs, um, while, you know, they might be out there running the business and doing things like there’s family and stuff behind the scenes and this whole support network and

What does that journey look like? And so to have kind of Stefanie bring her perspective to that, uh, I think as a, as an appropriate guest is where we’re talking about these topics. And then of course she’s got a big sales background, which, which she can talk about.

Tom Nixon (04:00.906)
Yeah, Stefanie. So, I’m gonna ask you about that in a minute, but I hope we come back to this topic of whatever the self-inflicted shame was of introducing your wife because I know it wasn’t because of Stefanie. I know what you’re saying that there’s this as a solopreneur, there’s sometimes there can be head trash that you feel like you’re not legitimately having a seat at the table because you’re just a freelancer. So, we’ll come back to that, but before we do, let’s

Stefanie (04:08.995)
Hehehe

Tom Nixon (04:26.442)
Welcome Stefanie. Stefanie, so you do have sales experience, obviously a long career in it. Tell us a little bit about that. It was in medical sales, right?

Stefanie (04:34.626)
Right, yep. So I spent 15 years working for one of the largest capital equipment medical sales companies. So I called on large health systems in the Metro Detroit and Toledo, Ohio area. And really when I started that, I had a marketing degree from Michigan State, no sales background to speak of at the time,

two years old and just from a series of fortunate circumstances got this great opportunity. And I learned easily, quickly, I suppose, that I didn’t know anything about imaging equipment. I could study and learn that, but really people buy from people. And you could read sales books going back.

hundreds of years, right? That will tell you that in a million different ways. But that’s really what I learned was the most important was building those relationships. And whether it’s a long-term sale like I was doing, which could be multi-millions of dollars and could take 15 to 18 months to close that deal. And you’re calling on multiple people in the organization to something on a more transactional basis.

It really is the relationship that matters and getting to know who your customer, your client is, understand what their, not only what their needs are and their expectations, but what is their individual win. And just really drawing that information out of them and establishing yourself as someone who is number one listening and is going to execute on what you’ve been asked.

and deliver on those promises. And if you do that, the rest of it is easy. And what I drove Curtis crazy with for 15 years is coming home and saying, telling him about all of these people that he was never gonna meet in his life and their vacations and their kids’ weddings and this. And he’d just be shaking his head like, why do you know all this stuff about these people? But that…

Stefanie (06:59.298)
And that made me love my job too. You know, I just feel like when you get to know that human element and really understand the people that you’re working with, that makes it enjoyable for everybody involved as well.

Tom Nixon (07:12.706)
So then Curtis is this does you do Stefanie’s your career in sales predate your relationship with Curt or vice versa?

Stefanie (07:21.938)
It does. We actually worked for the same company. That is how we met. So I was in sales for this company and Curtis can expound more on this, but he was working in one of our central offices in Illinois and someone sort of set us up while we were there. And so that’s how we met.

Curtis Hays (07:41.852)
Yep. Yeah. So, you know, Stefanie wasn’t just in sales. She was in the top, like 5% of salespeople in the country at 25 years old. And so that just goes to show like that was three short years of the time you started your career to, you know, learning what she learned with some really good mentors. And I had some good mentors as well in that organization. And so she won a

which they called the Pinnacle Award for top in sales in the country. And I was lucky to be in one of the zone offices and won an award along with the zone for some things that I had implemented. I was doing IT at the time and it was like the only IT person probably ever selected or won a few to the Pinnacle Award. And we met in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Cause I was living in Illinois, she was living in Michigan. We knew of each other and we may have even talked to each other on the phone once before, but, um, but there was a manager there, uh, who knew us both, respected us and came up to me the first day in the pool at a, you know, fancy resort said, Hey Curtis, if there’s one person you need to meet while you’re here, it’s Stefanie. And, uh, and so she actually introduced herself to me. It wasn’t the other way around.

Stefanie (09:07.918)
Pushy salesperson, right? Right.

Tom Nixon (09:09.334)
Yeah. Got to go for the ask, right?

Curtis Hays (09:11.665)
And, um…

Fast forward four short months, I quit my job. I moved to Michigan and started consulting. I didn’t start my business then. I started working for some other guys consulting, but I got out of that kind of corporate environment. And so 20 years ago, pretty close to almost exactly 20 years ago, then I started my consulting career.

Tom Nixon (09:40.45)
So, is that the business that eventually we know now today as Collideascope? I know it started out as Curtis Hays Consulting, right?

Curtis Hays (09:47.008)
Right. So I actually consulted for a few other guys for the first 10 years. I continued that IT experience and then as I’ve mentioned before, that IT experience evolved on the system side, helping sales and marketing organizations with the boom of the CRM, Salesforce, HubSpot, those types of tools. And it was around that time that I felt it was a good time for me to leave that organization that I had helped grow. We were 22 employees.

Almost 2 million in revenue. Um, my dad, unfortunately it passed away and, um, there’s real, like things happen to people in life that are kind of defining moments, it wasn’t that exact moment, but I was going through a period in my life where I was re evaluating where I was at. In my career at least. And, um, had a defining moment where I came home to Stefanie one day and said,

I need to leave, I need to do something different. And so that was kind of a scary moment, wasn’t it? Yes.

Stefanie (10:53.662)
Yeah, yeah, I’m a very, I’m a planner, I’m a saver. Just feel like, you know, this is what you’re supposed to do. I’ve worked for the same company for 15 years. I had a pension, right? Like, that’s just what you do. You follow this model. You make a good living. You know, I’m a little risk averse.

And so that was very scary for me.

Tom Nixon (11:22.89)
Yeah, I’m risk averse too. And I made the same leap. It took me probably a year to overthink it, over talk about it with my wife, you know, just drive her nuts. I finally did it. And I remember it was it was very scary to your point for my particular the timing of it lined up with me. I had a three year old daughter plus a seven year old son. And I left and it just happened to coincide with like the next week. I had a planned vacation that we had planned a whole year prior.

And I’m finding myself now with no job, not really a company yet. And I’m sitting at Disney World in Orlando, one of the most expensive places in the world, and I’m like, what have I done? So it was very, but I am also a planner so we could talk through maybe kind of all of our approaches. I did, I didn’t have clients lined up, but I kind of had a game plan of who might come with me, who I could go out and get. And so what we want to talk about today is hopefully.

Stefanie (12:03.434)
laughs

Tom Nixon (12:22.126)
creating some tips for others that might be considering following a similar path. What have we learned that we could pay forward? And that’s maybe the first question I’ll ask to you, Curtis. Did you have a plan and what should a plan look like now that you’re Monday morning quarterbacking looking back? Is there a way to plan it?

Curtis Hays (12:41.76)
Yes, so I had started Curtis Hays Consult. I had an LLC already because I was already freelancing. I had maybe one client at a time sort of on the side doing small little projects. So I had created an LLC. I had an EIN. I kind of had those types of things set up. When I made the decision, I certainly didn’t have a plan yet. But-

Tom Nixon (12:46.277)
Mm-hmm.

Curtis Hays (13:08.436)
One of the first things I did, and I think this is tip number one, is outside of my family and having that conversation, I had two other professionals in my network who I immediately talked to. One was another colleague that was roughly my age that was about to do the exact same thing, and lo and behold, she was starting a similar business and then we were able to leverage.

each other, both, you know, she had a different skillset. I was referring her business. She was referring me some business. So that was the first. And then I had another person who had gotten me involved in a leadership organization and we were both being mentored by the same person and he had successfully run a business now for started his own and was maybe three or four years in and he was the second one. And he also became a strong referral source for me.

Curtis Hays (14:08.12)
But not only that, they gave me some tips, you know, so I think six months ahead. I also gave six months notice, so I didn’t just give two months notice and leave. I gave six months notice and then I went and said, okay, I know I need to put some, a plan in place. Um, it’s kind of a calendar to some life events that, um, kind of aligned to when I wanted to start to do this, but then knew that this network that I had developed in already 10 years of consulting, how could I leverage that network?

to help me.

Curtis Hays (14:48.044)
Oh, Tom, we lost your audio for some reason.

Tom Nixon (14:54.55)
me make a note of the time. Yeah, okay. So, I’ll make a note of the time. 14, 15 minutes in. I gotta fix this. Yeah, and my story was similar. You know, I had, I was a huge planner, so I had at least some idea of what clients would come with me. Like I said, I didn’t talk to any of them. You got to be careful about what your non-compete says and what your non-solicit says with your current employer. So, that’s one thing to have an attorney look into, which I did.

Curtis Hays (14:56.676)
There we go.

Curtis Hays (15:01.996)
Yeah, no worries.

Tom Nixon (15:23.038)
And but I was lucky because I had a few clients. One was a brother, you know, his company was a client, another one was a good friend, I knew they were going to come with me with some level of confidence provided my former partner didn’t, you know, fight me on it. So that’s one step. There’s gonna be more things, though, but I want to come back to I want to get Stefanie’s perspective on the fear in the scary part when you eventually take your leap, because at some point, doesn’t Curtis ask you to come work

forward with him and you already have this 15 year you just told us about the safe cushy job you had. How did that how did that go?

Stefanie (15:56.514)
Right. Yeah. And that was, I think we both kind of were coming to that conclusion independently. We had two little kids at the time. And when Curtis first decided to take his leap, then, you know, kind of roles reversed a little bit where I was, I was working a lot, I was traveling some and he was the one getting the kids off and on the bus and

stuff like that. And then as his business grew and more demands were being made of him on his time, then it was just the shuffle that I’m sure many listeners are in, right? You just feel like your whole conversations are logistics and arguments of, well, I can’t get there. How would, you know, why can’t you? And that, and so it was like, something’s gotta give here, right? And

So then we started talking about that. And to your guys’ points, the planning ahead. So when we decided that I would take a step back from my career, we first met with our financial person, really understanding what is our, you know, what are our expenses. And not only that, but like you had said, right after you quit your job, you were going on a vacation.

What are the things that you kind of had in your plan for the next year that you don’t want to give up? You know, I mean, not just what does it cost to feed your family, but we had friends that were living in Italy and we had intended to go visit them. So we really sat down and said, not only what does it cost to live, what are some things we wanted to do? What do we need to set aside for that? And how, you know, how can we save that up? And then that’s what we worked on really over the next year was

of saving up that money so that I could more comfortably walk away because I am so risk averse. And then I sat down with not only my immediate boss, but some other trusted mentors and individuals that I had at the company and laid it out that this was the decision I needed to make for my family for the time being. And

Stefanie (18:15.47)
didn’t burn any bridges, not only didn’t burn any bridges, but really I gave, I wanna say five months notice, I mean, four or five months notice, lots of notice, helped to train the people who were gonna backfill me, set systems up in place so that people would understand what I had been doing for the last 15 years. I mean, they could have contacted me for months afterward and I would have answered questions.

So really just left that door open to not only ensure that all of the groundwork I had laid was gonna continue for the clients that I enjoyed working with so much, but that if things changed in our personal situation, I would have an opportunity to return. And I think I can pretty safely say now eight years later, regardless of the fact that some of those people are at different companies, if I called any one of them today, they would find a spot for me.

Tom Nixon (19:12.926)
Yeah, that’s important. And you hope to never have to use it, right? But you might have to. So tell us about the planner in you. So Curtis obviously sees more than just cheap labor, right? He sees an asset that can maybe plug some holes that his skill set doesn’t naturally allow him to in one of which maybe is the planning. I don’t know. But that is a strength of yours. I’ve heard Curtis talk, excuse me about this vision board that you process. Maybe you took Curtis through or took

Stefanie (19:16.607)
Right.

Stefanie (19:24.049)
Yeah.

Curtis Hays (19:24.61)
Hehehe

Tom Nixon (19:41.846)
you both through to kind of establish what some long-term goals and visioning would be.

Stefanie (19:48.406)
Yeah, so it’s something I would do in my personal life, you know, always, and literally like a bulletin board. And I’m sure now you could probably do some fancy digital one, but, and printing out or cutting out pictures, whether it’s the house you wanna live in, the vacation you wanna go on, I’m really big on words and values. A few years ago, we spent a lot of time kinda coming up with family values, and then structuring.

our activities or how we spend our time around those things. And so then that just transitioned to usually in, you know, around the holidays, then Curt and I will maybe go out to dinner, a nice dinner. We’re away from the distractions of home. You could do this, you know, anywhere, anytime, and really talk about where do you see yourself personally going in the next?

not just the next year, but the next year, the next three years, where do you wanna be 10 years from now? Where do you want your company to be in those times? And really, it’s just big goals. Like that vision boarding part of it is, nothing is silly, nothing is off the table. If you could imagine yourself anywhere, where would it be? And then putting that…

down and we can talk more about how you ran that into realistic things and action items. But that’s kind of what that vision boarding process looks like for me anyways.

Tom Nixon (21:24.426)
Yeah, awesome.

Curtis Hays (21:25.068)
Yeah, so I have an example of that, Tom, like the first time, I’m not a goal setter. So I really struggled with this. Um, nor am I kind of a task follower. Like I don’t make a list for myself. It’s all sort of scattered around in my brain. But, um, so I did fight that process a little bit, but it was fun to have a nice, I mean, we really would go to a nice dinner, bottle of wine, you know, nice steak and fish, whatever we’d share. And.

Tom Nixon (21:29.843)
Mm-hmm.

Curtis Hays (21:55.076)
You know, really talk about, okay, how do we see this next year kind of playing out? And you come a little bit prepared to that stuff. Sometimes would bring a notebook and she could write some things down and then you go back and you kind of build out the board and whatever, but we had everything from like, how much do we want to see the business grow this next year? And what’s the top line revenue number to like, well, if we get to this point in savings, we’ve always talked about getting a boat. So like.

Stefanie found a picture of a boat. It wasn’t the boat we bought, but it was just a picture of a boat that she cut out and put up on the vision board. And it’s like, when we got to that point that we knew we were comfortable with and there, then it was like, okay, yeah, let’s start researching. Let’s buy, let’s figure out what, what we want and let’s go and buy it and do it. And that decision though, that boat was centered also around the family values. Like that was going to be not just something I went and did, um, but something we did as together as a family. And so.

Uh, again, that worked for us. I think another big thing, Steph, and I don’t know when you came up with this, but we had the big meeting, but we also had been doing this for a number of years. I can’t remember when it started, but you talked about, like for a lot of couples, it’s that weekly shuffle. Who’s getting the kids, who’s taking them to practice, who’s doing all this. And somewhere along the line you learned like, well, let’s do date night once a week, which essentially date night for us, wasn’t just, it was time. Just the two of us.

But it was also planning. So it was like, and we spent those date nights at home and we made a dinner together after the kids got to bed. So we made them dinner. We got them to bed. Then we made dinner and over dinner we talked. We got caught up kind of on personal stuff. And then we sat down and we planned out our weeks. We got up both of our calendars. Who’s doing this with the kids on Saturday? Who’s taking them to this on this day? Who I have this big meeting on this day, so I need time to plan for it. So.

Where’d you get that advice, Steph? I can’t remember who shared that with us.

Stefanie (23:50.918)
I don’t even remember. I think it was probably at, it was probably at one of the women’s retreats from church. And just, yeah, really, you know, sometimes those things, right, stick with you. And it has, it makes the world of difference. And now the kids are older, they go to bed after us usually. So now we tell them, go upstairs, don’t bother us. But yeah, just having that. Otherwise, it’s a constant…

Curtis Hays (23:58.372)
Mm-hmm.

Tom Nixon (24:13.282)
Hehehehehehe

Stefanie (24:22.27)
You could go, we could go out and have a nice dinner and do that. But unless you’re kind of aligned on, okay, here’s what I need from you this week. Here’s what I’ve got going on. You just, any relationship, right? Expectations are more than half of the battle. So that just kind of sets aside this time. And then that also, just to tie it back to the vision boarding, you could spend some of that time saying.

Okay, you know, we have this kind of as our goals, what are we doing this month or this week to keep propelling that forward, right? It’s not just a picture of a boat on a vision board, but, oh, you have that big meeting this week? Okay, yeah, like what, so you really kind of keep trying to tie these little tasks into the overall goal, which again, just makes.

everything in your life more enjoyable because you say, that’s what I’m working towards, right? That I’m working towards that big goal.

Tom Nixon (25:18.161)
Thank you.

Tom Nixon (25:22.45)
Yeah, that’s what the business books would teach you. And if you’re in the larger companies I’ve been a part of, that’s the cadence that a management team would follow. They have annual meetings. They have quarterly check-ins. They have perhaps maybe monthly departmental meetings, and then a weekly meeting. So it’s all about, like you said, aligning those daily activities and behaviors to the long-term goal for the year, for the three-year horizon, five-year, whatever.

My big takeaway from what I’m hearing you both say is treat this company like a business and not like a side hustle because a side hustle, you can just read and react and hope the phone rings and then go out and shake the trees and whatever and get a gig here, get a gig there. But it sounds like the way that you’ve approached is this is, this is a company, whether it’s one person or 20 people, it’s a company that needs to be run that way.

Curtis Hays (26:13.408)
Yeah, and I think we took some pieces of what it takes to run a company and incorporate that into running our family and vice versa, you know, kind of treating the company as family in a way. But I think you have to, you know, like Stefanie said, the values, you know, that’s, we created five core values in the family. That’s some, that’s an exercise you would do inside of a company, right? And those become your guiding posts, guide posts for, you know, how you grow your business.

Tom Nixon (26:19.938)
Mm-hmm.

Interesting.

Tom Nixon (26:35.263)
Bit of business. Yeah. Right.

Curtis Hays (26:42.744)
When you Institute those things in a family, especially when you have like a family type business, you, uh, well, our fear, and I think maybe Stefanie’s probably biggest fear, um, I’ll speak for a little bit of what I think I heard was. That me having my own business was going to be a detriment to our relationship and our family. So these were stop gaps or, you know, things that we implement and say, though we’re not going to allow that happen.

Tom Nixon (27:03.983)
Hmm

Curtis Hays (27:11.44)
to happen because we’re going to be proactive. We’re going to figure out how to make this all work. And once it started working, then it was like, let’s, let’s keep investing more into the business because the business is providing fruit for the family and, and that just, that just continued. So.

Tom Nixon (27:31.158)
I love the way that you did it within the confines of what’s good for the family as opposed to you know I’ve seen entrepreneurs go out and they start a business based on what’s good for The bank account or themselves or their ego or whatever it is and the family can’t suffer. So that’s great I a quick book recommendation along those lines I don’t know if either of you have read the book essentialism by greg mccown Mckewn don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s all about establishing first the life that you want to have

and then building a business or a career around that as opposed to the other way around. So quick book recommendation. Um, I wanted to ask you both, and whoever has a good answer can, can respond first about time management tips, because when you go into your business for yourselves, one of the appeals is, Oh, I’m not going to have a boss anymore. Right. Which isn’t true. You just have multiple bosses, your clients and your vendors and all of the other things. Um, so

You need to now manage your own time in your own schedule, whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly, annually, however it is. Were there things that you learned or did you need to learn new behaviors to, um, sort of monitor perhaps the temptation to not manage your time? Well,

Curtis Hays (28:43.38)
Yeah. Well, I think we can both speak to this because we’re both very different with this. So I think listeners can get advice from two different perspectives. I think when I did start out, probably Stefanie imagined, you know, me on my underwear sitting on the couch, you know, relaxing, you know, working off my laptop. There could have been a few days working like that in the beginning. But.

Stefanie (28:47.674)
laughs

Tom Nixon (28:49.912)
I would have guessed.

Stefanie (28:59.879)
I’m sorry.

Curtis Hays (29:08.26)
You know, you do need to create a good work environment for yourself. Some people that’s a little bit of hybrid. I know some people like to go to a coffee shop and put headphones on and they can be productive. Um, I did eventually get an office space that did work for a while. I then came back home. We read, did our office at home that made it functional for the two of us. When we started working together. So I had a functioning space there at home ability to close the door.

not be interrupted by the kids and you know, those types of things. We were able to work all that out. I got a really good piece of advice from a friend of mine who was a, an architect had worked for a firm and then went out on his own and he had said, Hey, Curtis, you know, like I could end up doing client meetings all day long, going to job sites and those types of things and never get any drawing done. And people would call him and be like, Hey, I’m on the job site. Can you come here because this isn’t right or this isn’t right. And so he had to create.

a set of discipline and rules for his clients to say like, no, I can do meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I can meet you at the job site either of those days and we could get those schedules scheduled Mondays and Fridays where his head down work drawing, you know, doing things Wednesdays as well. But he did have a time carved out on his Wednesdays to do his accounting.

Tom Nixon (30:19.726)
Mm-hmm.

Curtis Hays (30:26.8)
So that way he always stayed up to date with his expenses, if he needed to do invoices, but every morning he would jump into his QuickBooks and he was due his accounting, so he’d never get behind on that. So he had kind of not super rigid with specific tasks every day and whatever, but he had blocked off at least time slots for himself to do certain types of tasks so that he could make sure. And in his world, there was a lot of heads down work, like.

I need to spend four to eight hours on this project to really make some progress on it. I can’t be interrupted with phone calls or meetings and those types of things. So I did a little bit of that. I kind of move in and out of that kind of work environment. Sometimes they’re more meeting heavy than others. But I think in the early stages, I was fairly rigid with when I did meetings or certainly when I drove to a client’s office because then you have drive time and those types of things.

Tom Nixon (31:20.939)
Yep. It-

Curtis Hays (31:21.9)
Stefanie, you’re it. Oh, go ahead.

Tom Nixon (31:22.53)
I was just going to quickly react to that because again, going back to the book, I just recommended the quote by Greg McKeown that is even in my daily planner that says, if you don’t prioritize your life, somebody else will. It, as you’re a freelancer, you’re going to be responding to stimuli all the time and you can’t run a business that way. You can run a freelance job that way, perhaps, but time blocking. So like I might have an afternoon off and if a non-urgent request

Stefanie (31:27.948)
Yeah.

Tom Nixon (31:52.504)
in for my time, but I’ve time blocked that I’m writing an article or something. Um, I’m unavailable and you have to be disciplined enough to tell the person I’m unavailable. Um, so I think that’s great advice. Um, Stefanie, what would you add to the time management topic, a tip or a lesson learned?

Stefanie (32:09.43)
I think I’m like you, Tom. I’m a list person and love time blocking. And I’m like putting that book to memory. I’ll be getting that. Cause I love to read anything improvement or productivity related, I love to read. And so yes, I’m a list person. Now I could easily have the tendency to be a workaholic. Curt will tell you that when I worked before, you could find me at my desk at 11 p.m. most nights.

Um, so I also have a tendency to think I can get more done in a day than I in reality can. So I have to be very disciplined. I keep a lot of lists and then I, I’m just like a paper person. I still have a planner and I color code my lists. And so, you know, I think this is maybe even like a mom thing, but I feel like I wear a lot of hats, right? I have to do stuff for the family and the kids. I’m doing stuff.

for our business, et cetera. So I have a different color of pen or marker that I write in. And then that gives me a quick visual to easily say, am I way out of alignment here in my priorities, right? Like, am I spending way too much time in some activity than another? But if I can’t keep it in my head, because then I wouldn’t be able to sleep. If I write it down, then it’s on the list and I just try to schedule my time out that way.

Tom Nixon (33:36.086)
Yeah. Well, before we kind of wrap up with final takeaways, because I’m going to ask you both, like, what is the one thing you would recommend to somebody who came up to you today, like I did to my brother 10 years ago and said, I’m thinking of leaving my job and doing this, what would you recommend? I just wanted to go back to the top of the onset in this sort of I use the word shame. I don’t know if that’s the right word. But you know, you show up and you know, you’re competing against a sophisticated agency say, you know that behind you.

is nobody and the there’s a net or it’s not there anymore. And you have to fight this sort of stigma that a quote unquote freelancer does not have a legitimate seat at the table for say a sophisticated creative, either undertaking or a professional services engagement. Um, and I think that’s a never been true, but I think it’s, I want to pick your brains on this. I think it’s less true.

today that it even was before. I think you look at the numbers and there’s a staggering number of people who are either exploring the gig economy or they’re going freelancing. The term I like to use is team Lansing, which is what we’ve got at Collideascope and partnership of companies, where it’s a bunch of people who are out on their own and we have businesses, we don’t have freelance jobs, we don’t have side hustles, and we complement one another. And so I can go to any potential engagement with

my deep bench, which includes the both of you and includes a bunch of other people and know that I’ve got probably the best team for the job. It might not all be under the same roof might not all be under the same banner, but that’s how I take away the stigma. I always correct people when they say, Oh, you’re a freelance writer. I’m like, No, I’m not a freelance writer. I am a part of a team. I am the content strategist for a part of a bigger team that does all sorts of things. And then I can explain the model but

Are there things that you guys have had to overcome in terms of like the stigma of being a freelancer? What would you, as we move into final thoughts, what would you recommend to somebody who is going to go out on their own relative to, you know, this whole notion of, oh, geez, I’m just a freelancer?

Curtis Hays (35:43.432)
Yeah, so I, well, when I started, I was Curtis Hays Consulting. There is still Curtis Hays Consulting, but this was pre-Kaleidoscope. And another team member who’s part of that team, Katie Decker, had formed K. Decker Consulting. She was doing her own thing. I’m doing my own thing. And she happened to get a lead from like a $40 million company and got a meeting with a CMO and a CFO.

Tom Nixon (35:58.466)
Hmm.

Curtis Hays (36:10.724)
She said, Curtis, I need your help with this, but I think we can close this deal. I’ve got a good relationship and good in there. Let’s try to tag team this and pitch this deal. So I kind of take the lead on it, go in, we present to the CMO and CFO, and at the end they’re great. They’re like happy to buy. But she was the one who originally got the referral. They’re aware of Kdecker Consulting. Here I am presenting this Curtis Hays Consulting, and they ask us on the spot. The CMO says,

So what’s the deal here? There’s Kdecker Consulting, there’s Curtis Hays Consulting, who are we gonna work with, how’s this all gonna work, you know, kind of a thing. And we sorted all of that out in that meeting, but that was kind of the birth, at least for us, for this model of, you know, basically saying, people are gonna be receptive to this. This was definitely pre-COVID, it might’ve been 2017, 2018.

Um, but companies were receptive to it and, um, we just kind of wanted to put a name to it because there was no TeamLance sort of model idea that we could use at the time. So that’s where Collideascope was kind of born. The word collide was essentially these professionals coming together, um, to help organizations and there were other team members who we did bring into that project. So I think don’t, you know, my advice would be trust.

your instincts, believe in yourself, have confidence in your abilities, your talents. There’s not a lot of people who are getting into this that don’t have a lot of knowledge. It’s typically all of our stories of we’ve spent some time in the professional world and now we’d like to step out of that for whatever reason and have the freedom and flexibility of being our own bosses. And…

and believe in yourself and step out into it. You’d be surprised once you use your network of how many organizations would be open to it and then figure out something that works for you.

Tom Nixon (38:12.65)
Yeah, that word network, because you said it earlier too, like you build this strong network, then you rely on it, and then you have the confidence to have that mindset shift that you’re not just a solo freelancer. You’re part of a bigger ecosystem. And that’s even helps me to this day that, you know, it’s remove some of that stigma. Stefanie, either comment on that? Or is there any final thought that you would give to a solo pre-nur in the making, ready to make that scary leap?

Stefanie (38:40.238)
Just to tie into what you guys were just saying, just two words I think of is nimble and longevity. I mean, we’ve had this conversation before with clients. So if they’re used to dealing with an agency, they’re used to dealing with a company that’s likely not nimble or quick, right? And they’re used to dealing with a lot of turnover. So we’ve used the example before.

Tom Nixon (39:00.756)
Hmm.

Stefanie (39:09.198)
This TeamLance model we have, I mean, look at when we look at Tom and Curt and Katie and Dan, et cetera, we’ve all been working together for a long time. And so I think that speaks volumes as well as just the accessibility to who you need to talk to and how quickly things can happen can really makes a huge difference. And then any of, I mean, I would tell anyone to go for it. It’s not…

it’s so much better to be your own boss. And there’s really, it’s no less work. You’re probably going to work more, but you’re working for yourself. And there’s just so much more fulfillment in that. And having, you know, yeah, we go on vacation and Curt’s on his computer at the vacation place most of the time, right?

Tom Nixon (39:47.276)
No.

Stefanie (40:08.846)
Um, so it is different, but it’s worth it.

Tom Nixon (40:12.338)
Yeah. Yep. I just told someone recently that it is simultaneously by far the most scary thing you’ll ever do, and it’s by far the most rewarding. All right, Curtis, final thoughts. What would you provide as recommendation?

Stefanie (40:20.974)
Mm-hmm.

Curtis Hays (40:23.66)
Yeah, I got two things to add. First, I’ll jump off of what Stefanie just said, and we both gave significant notices, as we mentioned to our previous employers. So if you don’t burn any bridges, Stefanie did say this earlier, that we sort of lived under the mantra of, if this doesn’t work and we dip into our life savings with this, if we dip into our savings, then…

Curtis Hays (40:53.08)
we could always go back to the place we were at, right? If you don’t burn the bridges, you could always go back to work for that company or somebody left that company, there’s somewhere else, that previous boss, that whoever, you could always go back there. So that was, I think that was a big thing and definitely something, don’t burn those bridges. I think the other takeaway is be a bit financially savvy if you’re gonna do this. If you’re not currently financially savvy,

take some time to learn before you jump into this. I’ll recommend a really good book called Profit First by Mike Michalski, I think his name is, or some form of that, I butchered, yeah. But I was fortunate because I did, I sort of oversaw some of the finances and I knew how to use QuickBooks and do invoicing and reconcile bank statements and all those kinds of things. In my previous company, while I wasn’t the accountant, I oversaw the accountant, so I understood.

Tom Nixon (41:27.365)
Mm-hmm.

Tom Nixon (41:31.667)
But cello wits, I think it is something like that. Yeah.

Curtis Hays (41:49.728)
All of that, I was able to jump in and kind of do all that myself. Um, so either get somebody who can do that for you. Uh, there’s a lot of tools and online softwares that kind of do a lot of the busy work for you and it’s easy to create invoices and all of that, but find a good CPA, educate yourself, this profit first book, which I read maybe halfway into, uh, running my business, which came from another entrepreneur recommended it, but

Oftentimes entrepreneurs like we, there’s not a lot of expenses in a freelance business, but in a lot of other businesses when you’re an entrepreneur, you end up paying a lot of other expenses out with the income that’s coming in and you forget to pay yourself. And if you don’t pay yourself as the owner of the business, the business won’t succeed. Because if all your money goes into the business and then you have no money to live off of, then you’re gonna give up on the business.

Tom Nixon (42:42.144)
Alright.

Stefanie (42:43.246)
Yeah.

Tom Nixon (42:48.383)
Exactly.

Curtis Hays (42:49.132)
So the owner of the business who has all the equity has to be paid at some point. So it teaches you how to set up financial systems so that you ensure you’re paid at least to a level that you could live off of, and then in turn, invest in the business to grow the business and a model for how to continue to compensate you, you know, and grow along the way. So that really changed kind of how I looked at things. It helped me trim down on some costs that I had.

I was like, why am I paying for these types of things? I can take that money and put it into a savings account or do some other things with it. So educate yourself on finance before you jump into something like this, because while you’re not gonna have to worry about HR running your own business, you are gonna have to become your own CFO.

Tom Nixon (43:38.678)
Yeah. I used to volunteer for a group called score and we would mentor entrepreneurs and small business owners. And one of my fellow mentees, our mentors, who was kind of like a senior statesman with the organization, the first question he always asked one of his mentees was who’s your accountant? And he did it on purpose, because the answer was always blank stares and like, I don’t, I don’t have an account, but he thought it was so important that it was the first thing he always asked. And I will give you my perspective and working with probably 100

entrepreneurs and solo practitioners. Um, because it’s a trap I fell into too. When I left and I started my own business, I was worried about, you know, where’s my office going to be? This is pre COVID. Um, what’s the business card going to look like? You know, what’s the website going to say? How’s my logo going to get designed? In my sage advice, I got from my brother who was willing to slap me upside the head and say, stupid. I would devote all of your time to customer acquisition right now.

None of that other stuff matters. So when you’re in stage zero, which is hopefully before you’ve left, um, that’s the advice I would follow. So stage zero is you think you’re going to do this. It’s all about client acquisition. None of that other stuff matters when you’re in stage one and you’ve got a business, yes, you need a business card. You probably don’t need an office anymore. Likely need a website, but focus on client acquisition. Cause that’s the revenue that you’re going to use to pay yourself.

Curtis Hays (45:01.88)
Yeah, I call it networking. You’re calling it client acquisition, but we’re on the same page there. You’ve gotta do the kind of boots on the ground, call your network, and that’s all about letting people know that you’re out there and you’re available. And yeah, knock on some doors and the work can come.

Tom Nixon (45:20.551)
Absolutely. Go ahead.

Stefanie (45:21.218)
Well, I’d ask a question of both of you guys. You’ve both been successful at this for a long time. And would you say that most of your business comes from referrals and word of mouth or some other effort that you’re out there doing to drum up business?

Tom Nixon (45:44.658)
I would say I’ll go first. I would say my best leads usually come from people I know because they’re referring somebody in that person has already earned that person’s trust. So, I would say that’s foremost and you know, we’re professional services firms. So, I think that’s typical. The other source of leads that I get is somebody who I never thought is was paying attention to content I publish or books that I’ve written or posts that I do on social media will pop

Tom, can I set up a meeting? I know you’re really good at such and such and such. And I’m thinking, how do you know I’m good at that? Like we’ve never, I mean, I might know you, but you don’t know the first thing about me, but they actually do. So that’s a whole nother topic. It’s a bullhorn activity with just sharing your ideas freely with the universe and eventually those opportunities will present themselves. So that’s Curtis. How about you?

Stefanie (46:20.29)
Thanks for watching!

Curtis Hays (46:37.904)
Well, yeah, so here’s a testimony to that. I’ll say, although I could think of one company that came through my website that was a significant piece of business in the 10 years I’ve been doing this. So that’s like a fraction of a percent of revenue that’s come from cold or some level of marketing, what I invested in my website and some things. It’s all come from referrals. And there’s a…

There’s a tree, relationship tree of all of those referrals and how they built off of each other and all of that. So that’s huge. Now on this bullhorn thing, this podcast is my first bullhorn activity and I came to you and said, hey, I got case studies, I got testimonials to share, stories that we should tell and this seemed like a good format to do it. I got a message yesterday on Facebook. So the first one that’s come in, I think we published five episodes now.

a really old contact of mine. And he said, hey, Curt, I’ve been listening to the podcast, and I think it’s time you and I talk. That was basically his message. So he…

Tom Nixon (47:43.758)
I’m like, wow. The only thing left to do now is to discuss my fee here.

Stefanie (47:50.615)
Hehehehe

Curtis Hays (47:53.444)
So, we never know, he might be part of the project in some way. We’ll see what his needs are. But I’ve known him since I was a kid. So, I mean, it’s somebody I’ve known forever. We’ve been connected. He knows what I’ve been doing for a long time. But something we said resonated with him, messaging that we’re putting out.

he may have a problem in his organization, his company that he needs help with. And so, you know, he’s turning to us. So this content, however you’re publishing content and sharing knowledge to your audiences, you never know how that might turn out and what that might lead into. So we’ll see as this journey continues.

Tom Nixon (48:38.774)
Absolutely. So if you want to see previous episodes or you want to make sure you don’t miss the next episode like Curtis said at the beginning, make sure you subscribe either on YouTube and Apple podcasts on Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts. Cool. Well, we’ll wrap up there. Thank you, Stefanie for joining us today. Thank you for taking the leap way back when despite all of your inclinations to plan and make it perfect. I guess I should also thank you for marrying Curtis because that’s how I met you.

really good to have you both on. Thank you very much and I guess until next time, you guys could go do your planning date night but I’ll see you again on the next episode of Bullhorns and Bullseyes.

Stefanie (49:07.754)
Yeah.

Stefanie (49:20.29)
Thanks, Sam.

Curtis Hays (49:20.912)
Right, that was a long one, but that’s good, that’s okay.

Tom Nixon (49:23.434)
Yep, that’s why I hit a sudden.

 

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