Marc has been a full-time online entrepreneur since 2008. He's built websites and blogs in a few different industries including web design, photography, travel, and personal finance. He's sold several of those past projects and currently his main focus is the finance blog, VitalDollar.com.
1:14 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Entrepreneurs must address the ‘Why’ very clearly to get started.
Mark talks about the reasons for quitting his auditor job and starting his own website building business. Primary reasons are lack of opportunities for growth in his job and dwindling group. The side hustle he was engaged in started taking off so he quit his job.
4:55 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Given that entrepreneurial journey is a long and hard task, it is important to get family support.
Mark talks about the support he received from his wife when he actually decided to quit. Given that there will be loss of income initially and long hours, he is grateful for the support he received.
6:30 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Managing transitions is very important and retrospection is important to ensure continued success.
Mark had an interesting story about how he managed to replace his salary with his side gig from day one and that eased his transition. After selling couple of his businesses, he thought about transition primarily because of burnout but finally decided to start another venture and continue the same path.
8:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Time management is extremely critical for entrepreneurs and a To-Do list may be the most productive technique.
Mark shares his techniques for managing time. His primary go-to method is a To-do list that he maintains on a daily basis and checks off the items. Additionally, he also maintains a big picture yearly goals list as well. He uses Google docs and a notebook for his lists and goals.
12:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be proactive about outsourcing and plan for transition with freelancers.
Mark shares his outsourcing techniques. He uses freelancers for content, graphics etc. and his experience is that even though he finds good freelancers, after some time they move on. So he needs to be proactive. Also, he tried many tools for managing other parts of his business (like accounting) but always went back to simple tools.
16:52 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be very clear about your target customers.
Mark is very clear about his target customers. For example, his target customers for his latest venture vitaldollar.com are people like him ten years ago. He leveraged his personal experiences to identify the target customers.
20:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Find what you like to do. Assess what you are good at. And see if you can make money with what you like and what you are good at.
Mark gives 3 pieces of advice to would be entrepreneurs. First, find out what you like to do. Second, find out what you are good at. Lastly, for the things that match between what you like and what you are good at, research if there is a market for it and you can monetize it.
22:42 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Specialize in a competitive industry to find your niche to grow.
Mark tells us not to be afraid of competition. Competition means opportunities. The way to approach competitive area is to specialize in your area. Example is, for a photography blog, specialize in wildlife photography, travel photography etc.
27:42 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Just start doing it instead of worrying about starting a perfect business. You can always tweak the business.
Mark tells us not to worry about starting the perfect business or doing things exactly right from the start. You'll learn a lot more from doing than you will just from like sitting on the sidelines. One thing he said he could have done better is outsource more so he can focus on really important things.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and running your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today we have a guest who has been his own boss since 2008. Marc has been a full-time online entrepreneur since 2008. Marc Andre has built websites and blogs in a few different industries including web design, photography, travel and personal finance. Marc has sold several of those past projects and currently Marc's main focus is a financial blog www.vitaldollar.com. Marc Andre for you. Hi Marc welcome to the podcast.
Marc: Hey Ramesh thanks for having me.
Ramesh: So, awesome. So, you've been at it since 2008. So, my first question is: Prior to 2008 you were a full-time Auditor and then you left your job and decided to take a plunge. Why?
Marc: Really it was the biggest motivation was just a frustration of a lack of opportunities in my job. So, I had been, I’ve been in that job as an auditor for between three to four years and I’ve been in a few other positions and other finance related companies before that. And really you know just throughout my 20s after college I was just kind of frustrated. I didn't really feel like I was in jobs where I had a chance to grow. The job as an auditor was okay. But I didn't really want to continue to be in the same position forever and I was on a very small team when I left. It was just my boss and myself and, so I really had basically you know no opportunities for growth and it was just frustrating, because I'm not the type of person that likes to just stay in one job forever. Like to at least have a hope of you know of something better you know something for the future. And so originally my business star as a side hustle and I was working on websites and you know it kind of started to take off. So, it was just you know I saw more opportunities to grow my own business and to get what I wanted out of my own business rather than my job.
Ramesh: Okay so but when you left your job and I'm sure you thought of other possibilities. Either started joining another company and things like that. So, I mean why online business? How did you get into it? Like somebody inspired you? Somebody coached you? How did you, can you talk about the process of how you got into the online business?
Marc: Sure, so it really started several years before that. My last year of college back in 2002, I took a course. It was just a single course on web design and it was really basic. It was one semester long. By the end of semester, we could know enough HTML to basically put up a very basic website and that was about it. But I really enjoyed it, it got me excited and my major was in business. So, I think I kind of saw the potential of like you know using that skill along with my interest in business. You know if I had the ability to create my own website and this was back before like WordPress and all these you know platforms where you could create your own website very easily. This is before they were really around or very popular. So back then if you wanted a website you had to hire somebody. So, you know I saw the possibilities of if I didn't need to hire somebody, if I could do it myself it would be a pretty cool opportunity to use that you know to be able to start a business. So that kind of got me interested and I continued to learn more about web design and online marketing and stuff. But it was very slow. You know I would follow tutorials and read books and stuff over the next couple of years, an experiment. But I never really started anything. It was just kind of messing around and then it wasn't until like 2006 I kind of took my first client for designing websites. Which was family members and then 2007 was when I really decided, and you know to take it seriously and when I actually started my business.
Ramesh: So how was the plan? How was your family support? Because one of the things that the entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs talk about is sometimes is the lack of family support or full family support. But how was your situation? Can you talk about it a little bit?
Marc: So, I was married in 2006. Like my first year of marriage that I started my business and my wife, we didn't have any kids at the time. She was very supportive. I think she knew I was frustrated with my job and you know she saw that this was something that I was interested in and she was very supportive. It meant you know I was working on my business part-time. So, it was a lot of evenings and weekends and stuff. So, he had less time the two of us together. She had to make a lot of sacrifices as well. But she was yes, she was extremely supportive. I really didn't, I don't think I talked about it too much with other family like with my parents or anyone else. So, it's really just between the two of us. But she was a big help and then also not even just with getting started, but a year and a half later when we got to the point where I quit my job obviously that impacted her a lot too. Because we were dropping my income and you know if something would have happened to my business and we are totally flopped, we would have been living on her income. She was working too at the time. So, she was definitely very supportive both at the beginning and then also when we got to that point of deciding for me to leave my job.
Ramesh: It’s great. So, you started your job in 2008 and then you've been at it for the last ten plus years. So, then what did any like times you thought to yourself why did I do this and why am I doing this? Were there down times?
Marc: Not really. So initially it started very quickly. Like part of it was because we took the year and a half for me to build up my business before leaving my full-time job. So, I was able to replace the income from my full-time job right from the first month that I was working in my own business full-time. So, I really didn't have any regrets you know things went well. About two years ago after selling a business, my wife and I had been selling on Amazon and we had a business selling on Amazon and we actually sold that business and after that I was kind of going through a transition. You know just trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do with my time and stuff. And I did have some thoughts then about maybe transitioning into something else. Whether it would be you know going back to a job as a full-time employee. But I think a lot of it was just kind of maybe burnout going through you know some different online businesses and stuff and I was kind of just at a transition point. So ultimately, I decided at least for now I'm just going to keep you know keep going forward with my own business and not really look for a transition. But I think that was probably the only time where I really had a real what you could call it downtime I guess, and it was more you know just mental and emotional burnout I think.
Ramesh: I don't know if you want to talk about it. But what helped you come through that? How did you get over that?
Marc: Part of it was just talking to my wife and you know and getting her support and making sure we are on the same page. Part of it was my mom was a big help too. I talk to her. She was an encouragement and part of it was just you know giving it time to weigh through the options and stuff and try to decide what's best for our family.
Ramesh: So now let's talk a little bit about running the business. So, when you and I connected through some emails about challenges faced by entrepreneurs, one thing that we particularly mentioned is time management. I mean as entrepreneurs we all face the challenges of time management. Thousand things to do, only so much time. So how did you manage your time? What are the tips that you can share with the listeners that helped you manage your time.
Marc: The biggest thing I do is, I use it to do lists to keep track of you know what's important. When I first started I didn't. I didn't have a to do list. I just worked you know on what I thought I needed to do and before too long I realized that I was wasting too much time. I was working on things that weren't critical. You know just not using my time in the best way. So, I learned pretty quickly that I needed a to do list. So, my process is I have a weekly to-do list and I create that at the end of the week, each week like for the following week. So, like today as we're talking, it's a Friday. So probably this afternoon I’ll sit down and create my to-do list for next week and then I also break it down by each day. So, I’ll you know create a list of things to do on Monday and then at the end of Monday, I’ll create a list of things. You know I’ll pull things off of my week list and assign them to Tuesday and you know I just do that until. Usually I don't get everything done for my weekly to-do list, every single week. Occasionally I do get everything done. But usually I don't. But that helps me at least to stay focused and I have a list of you know I don't wind up doing something that doesn't really matter and forget about like the most important things. So really, it's just about for me it's about keeping that list and keep me focused. So as soon as I'm done with one thing I can go back to the list and say okay what do I need to do next and I don't waste time in between. But I also have, like bigger picture I have a document on my computer that kind of lists like you know my overall goals that I want like the Year like what I want to get done by you know certain months or you know milestones throughout the year, that I want to hit. And I kind of use those to work backwards when I create my to-do lists. Like if I'm saying, okay I want to get a product launched by the end of June. What do I need to do each week to make that happen? So, I kind of use these over arch goals or milestones that I want to hit and work backwards to keep me on pace to try.
Ramesh: So, for these lists and then this gold writing, do you use good old notebook, or do you use any tools?
Marc: I just use Google Docs. It's just a simple you know simple document that I just type in what I want you to know. What my goals are, when I want to hit them and then I actually keep my to-do list, it's actually on paper at my desk. I just take a piece of paper each week and write out the things and cross them off as I'm done.
Ramesh: That’s great. So, the second part of running a business is either employees, a lack of employees or outsourcing a lot of the tasks. So, what is your approach to running and managing your business?
Marc: I’ve never had an employee, it's always just been me. I have used a lot of freelancers over the years for different things. I use freelancers for writing. Like for writing blog content and I use freelancers for design, development, my web development. I have used freelancers at times depending on in the past I’ve had a few websites where I sold digital products. So, I would hire freelancers for creating some of those products. Some of the stuff I created myself. But some of it was things I outsource to other people. So, I definitely use freelancers a good bit. Not as much as some people I guess. But you know my process is basically I just try to find somebody that is reliable, and you know that does a good job at a reasonable price and use them for as long as I can. I think I’ve found that with most freelancers are probably not going to be available forever. They'll move on to something else or they'll get a full-time job, or their rates will change, or you know especially the good ones either their rates are going to increase significantly over time or they're going to, I’ve had some like designers that I hired that eventually stopped doing freelance design. Because they wound up creating their own products and selling. So, you know especially the good freelancers usually wind up at some point will probably move on to something. So, try to work with them as long as they can and accept the fact that you're probably only going to be working with them for a limited time and then they'll move on. But I used a few different ways of finding people. I have used Upwork. I use Upwork at times for finding freelancers. I've also used more, I don't know if you call it cold emails I guess. Like so for writers sometimes I’ll just find someone that is writing for other blogs on the same topics that I want to hire a writer for and someone that I think they do a good job and just reach out to them and say, I am looking for writers. If you're interested in other work. Where I'm kind of ham picking people rather than just like putting a job listing up on Upwork and people responding to it. Yeah both methods have worked pretty well. Just depends on the project which way I’ll approach it.
Ramesh: Okay so I mean what are the other tools that you might be using in running your business. Look at the accounting or any other tools that are vital for your business?
Marc: I mean to be honest I don't use a whole lot. Because I found, I’ve tried allotting of stuff over the years. But I found that a lot of times those things just make it more complicated for me. So, I run pretty simple, I actually keep all of my financial records in spreadsheets. I talk to my accountant years ago like when I first started working with him. I was like do I need to use quick book and he said, no you know for one-man operation what you're doing you're fine. If you just, you know just spreadsheets and so I do it that way. It works for me. For me it's quicker. You know I don't have to go learning curve of getting familiar with some other accounting software or something. I do use a tool for invoicing. I used this site called Ronin and there's a lot of different you know similar invoicing apps that you can use. But I use that for sending and managing invoices. Although sometimes depending on the client, if I'm doing freelance work sometimes I will just invoice straight from PayPal. It kind of depends on the client. If they pay by PayPal, I usually just use the PayPal invoice.
Ramesh: It’s great. So, you're just following to keep it simple rule.
Marc: Yeah like I said I’ve tried a ton of different apps and things over the years and I think about the problem with me for a lot of them is, it's usually like some aspect of my business that I’ll spend a very small amount of time on. So, I don't use it enough to really like get familiar with it and really know it that well. So, I tend to just try to take a more minimal approach and use fewer apps and tools and stuff.
Ramesh: So, the other thing about business is identifying who your ideal customers are, who you are targeting your business towards and what are the problems that you're trying to solve for them. So, let's talk about your www.vitaldollar.com Marc. So, who are your ideal customers? Who are the people who are targeting your financial blog towards and what problems are you trying to solve for them?
Marc: So really my target audience is basically people who are in a similar situation to what I was in about ten years ago before I started my business, around the time I'm starting my business. So, I was frustrated with finances. I was feeling like I wasn't getting ahead. I wanted to make more money. I wanted to be able to save more money and so really that's the target audience that I have is people who want to improve their financial lives. Whether it be through saving or making more money and yeah so, it's really basically just me back like 10 to 12 years ago.
Ramesh: Okay great. So, we talked about how you started the business and how you're running your business. Let's talk a little bit about your motivations. You know let's talk about people who inspired you, motivated you or who continued to inspire you and motivate in your life.
Marc: Yeah to be honest I'm not really sure that there's really a particular person that motivated me or inspired me to start a business. And like I said earlier it was really just out of a frustration of not getting what I wanted at my job. At this point I would definitely say my main motivation is my family. So, when I started I said my wife and I had just gotten married, we had no kids. At this point we do have two kids. We have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. So, my wife and my kids are definitely my main motivation and that's what you know what keeps me going and motivates me to do better on daily basis and so...
Ramesh: So different people you know get motivated by different things like books or movies and things like that. So how about you? How do you find your motivation?
Marc: You know I really just find motivation based on my day and like what I want to do with my time, how I want to use my time and how I want to provide for my family. So, I really enjoy what I do because I'm able to work from home. I'm able to work on my own. I am able to choose the projects that I work on and that's my motivation is you know being able to continue that lifestyle and that type of work. If I had to go back to a job, that would be okay. I would in some ways thereafter you know being self-employed and working for ten years, there are some things that would be nice about going back to a job, if it was the right type of job. But for the most part I really enjoy what I do and so my motivation is to be able to continue to do that and continue to provide for my family. I don't think I really have too much outside motivation in terms of like books or movies or anything like that.
Ramesh: It’s great. So, let's say I am your target audience. I want to start a business. So, tell me how you will go about. I mean what are the things that I should be looking at thinking about to start my own business.
Marc: Well obviously there's a lot of different types of business you could start. For me online business has been great and that's you know that's where my experience is. So that's what I can provide a little bit more guidance on. But my recommendation would be to start to think about the things that interest you. The things that you enjoy spending your time on. I don't think it's a hundred percent necessary or a requirement for you to quote follow your passion. You know with your business I think you could definitely start a business on something that really doesn't interest you, just because it's a good way to make money and would be fine. But I know for me personally I found that I have a lot more patience and motivation working on things that I enjoy, and I think it's a little bit more important if you have a full-time job and you're going to be running your own business on the side. I think you know it takes a lot of discipline to just start a business after working 40 hours a week. I had a full-time job and there are times when you come home and you're feeling like I just don't really feel like doing anything else and if your business involves stuff that does interest you, I know at least for me personally it's a lot harder to push yourself and to motivate yourself to do it. I've started websites on topics in the past that really don't interest me, and they never really go anywhere. Because I wind up not putting as much time into them. So, my advice would be to think about the things that interest you and what you would like to spend your time doing and how you can turn that into a business. There are a lot of different ways. It could be a service. I think service related businesses are a really great opportunity or it could be an online business like a blog or selling digital products or even like a YouTube channel or a podcast or something. So, I really think it's just you know finding the right one.
Ramesh: So, you talk about four things if I could summarize. One is a personal interest, the second one is the skills that you have, the third one is the discipline that you talked about and then the fourth one I think three experiences of being organized. So those are the four seems to be critical attributes that you're looking for, I mean you're advising people to focus on.
Marc: Yeah, I think that's a good summary.
Ramesh: So, a little bit about this online business. There seems to be so much competition out there, a lot of people trying to do it. I mean do you still think there are a lot of opportunities to make money in this online business blogging and these areas?
Marc: Yeah definitely. You're right there's a lot of competition. My blog would be classified as a personal finance blog and there are literally thousands of personal finance blogs. So, there's definitely a lot of competition/ but there are opportunities too. There are you know people who are just getting started and doing well within the first year or two. Most of my experience in fact almost all of my experience, all of my success really has been with sites that are in more competitive industries. So, my first blog, my first blog was a web design blog. You know a very popular topic, there's a good bit of competition there. From that I went on to photography and again that's you know a very popular topic. There's a lot of existing websites and stuff on photography and now in personal finance. So, my experience really is in the, you know the more popular industries where there is a lot of competition. But the opposite side of there being a lot of competition is there's also a lot of opportunities. There's a huge potential audience out there if you can reach them. If you can you know offer them something that other blogs in your industry don't. If you can stand out somehow. There's also a lot of opportunities related to products. It's like a digital product or in some cases it could be a physical product. My experience mostly is with digital products and also with services too and even with advertisers and affiliate programs and sponsorships and stuff. So, I wouldn't necessarily encourage someone to shy away from competitive industries because there's a lot of competition. Because there is plenty of opportunity to make up for that competition. But what I would encourage people to do and to be honest what I wish I would have done when I started vital dollar a little over a year ago is that I think it's a good idea to specialize a little bit. So, my blog is kind of a general personal finance blog that covers a lot of different topics related to finance, making money, saving money, managing money. If I were to start it today, to be honest I would probably just focus on making money to kind of make it a little bit more specialized and so that's kind of what I would recommend to people is rather than just starting a photography blog, you know start a blog on a particular aspect of photography. Whether it be like wildlife photography or wedding photography or some specific aspect and the same thing as, you know if you're doing a travel blog rather than just being a general travel blog. Think about how you can differentiate yourself and how you can stand out a little bit, make yourself a little bit more unique. So that you're not directly competing with all these other blogs on the same general topic.
Ramesh: Great, so basically, you're talking about what's called the finding the niche area. So, niching down to the area. Okay so find competitive industries, don't shy away from competition. But find a niche in those industries so you could specialize and differentiate yourself.
Marc: Yeah exactly.
Ramesh: That’s great. So, I think you just started alluding to things that you could have done differently. Along those lines what are the things overall not just as the www.vitaldollar.com, but things that you think you could have done differently just to bring more agility into the entrepreneurial business with start quickly, do things quickly and the overall like anything that you could share where you could have done things differently?
Marc: I probably wouldn't do a whole lot differently. But there are a few things I think I definitely could have done a better job of outsourcing more over the years. Most of my work has been with blogs and I have outsourced some of the writing to freelance writers. But I’ve also done a lot of it myself. Done majority of it myself and I probably could have, definitely could have outsourced more and you know used my time for other like bigger picture things. Working on products, working on promoting blogs a little bit more. So, I think I probably could have done a better job with that. That's probably the biggest thing is and that kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier with my biggest challenge is time management. So, you know I could have done a better job managing my time, freeing up by hiring people to do a little bit more of the work rather than just trying to do so much of it myself.
Ramesh: It’s great Marc. As we start down this podcast, any last-minute thoughts or things that you could share with the listeners?
Marc: I think I would just encourage people with, if you're in a similar situation to what I was in where you know you're looking for something different and you're not really sure, I would encourage people just to get started to find like we were talking about just a minute ago. Find something that interests you and get started. You don't have to worry about you know starting the perfect business or doing things exactly right from the start. One of the nice things about online business is, it doesn't take a whole lot of time and money to get started. Especially with like a blog or something. You know you can get started and kind of learn on the go and your first attempt, it may not be successful, it may not be great. But you'll learn a lot more from doing than you will just from like sitting on the sidelines. So, if people are interested I would encourage them to get started and go and learn from there as you go.
Ramesh: Great. So, get started, don't be afraid of failures and keep it going. Hey that's Marc Andre. Marc Andre runs a personal finance blog about making money and saving money. Marc thank you very much for your time.
Marc: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity Ramesh.
Ramesh: Thank you.