December 30, 2019

Reflecting on 2019 for Transistor

As a company in the marketing industry, I know we’re supposed to take this time to predict what trends will die or change games in 2020. But there’s already hundreds of millions of options for that elsewhere. So I’d rather take this time to get into the more human stuff of what the heck happened to our small company over the last 12 months.

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As a company in the marketing industry, I know we’re supposed to take this time to predict what trends will die or change games in 2020. But there’s already hundreds of millions of options for that elsewhere. So I’d rather take this time to get into the more human stuff of what the heck happened to our small company over the last 12 months.

The year started fairly similar to most. Lindsie and I survived our annual Q4 panic over whether we’d be able to keep being our own bosses for another year. The notable difference being we finally made good on years worth of talk and Lindsie became the first official hire and Vice President of the company. Yay! We were staying above water using a handful of freelancers, but things kept growing and it was tough to keep up. We knew we had to take steps to make things more serious and sustainable.

February

Our first big move was to find an office. Much harder than I would’ve thought without crushing our budget or working far from home. Most options we looked at were basically dungeons. No windows. Zero amenities. But we serendipitously stumbled across a “for rent” sign for a nice garden suite in Greendale. Signed up immediately and started moving in. Transistor World Headquarters was open for business!

March

And right away, it was time to grow the team. We’d been working with Chelsea for a little bit as a freelancer and didn’t have to put a ton of thought into whether she was the right choice. It was just a matter of convincing her to leave her job and make a right turn with her career path. But it worked out and it’s been absolutely the right move.

The tough part is we now had someone working for us that was used to working a normal job. I mean, Lindsie and I had that experience to, but we also adjusted to four years of freelancing. Things like structure or benefits were distant memories. The good thing is we now have stuff like vacation/sick/maternity/paternity policies. Heck, we have policies! I got to take on the additional job of being HR. It was a good chance to remedy some of the things we disliked about previous employers but pretty stressful to have to think through ramifications of promising things to people. It’s not like we could really offer the world, but I think we came up with some options that made for a decent start and gave us room to improve as we’re able.

April

Minor details, but in April my kid had surgery that put me out of the office for a week. That was immediately followed by Chelsea going overseas for vacation. Even though our team is and was super small, this was one of the first moments where it actually hit home that we have a TEAM. People were gone dealing with life and things kept running. That’s pretty awesome.

July

Around this time we started realizing we’d need to add someone else to the team before too long. And we were really struggling to figure out how that would happen. Long story short, we settled on trying out an intern to see if we could slowly groom someone for the job. This meant figuring out things like, how the heck do you hire an intern? How do you find them?

The interesting thing about the process is we got very few applicants who were actually in school. Maybe we went about things wrong (we did post on the local college job boards). Maybe our office is in the wrong location (we aren’t super close to any campus). Maybe it’s just that we’re too much an unknown. But we got a bunch of people who were recent grads or even folks that had been working in marketing for a few years. Weird.

I think it is a mix of our location and lack of notoriety. But we were offering a paid internship and I know entry-level marketing jobs are damn near impossible to find. So that probably played a big role. Either way, LinkedIn ended up being by far the most successful route for finding people. And it is cheap. Just in case anyone hasn’t tried it for job postings.

More on this in a bit.

October

I wanted to break this up with another heading to try and explain how long it took to figure out how the heck to structure an intern program, interview people, make a decision. But in October, we got there and hired Matt. While not technically an intern (he had already graduated earlier in the year), we approached things the same. Took a chance on someone that we thought showed promise to learn the ropes and eventually be able to handle all the demands of the job.

This was probably the most terrifying of all the moves. We (and especially Lindsie) had some history with Chelsea. We were pretty confident about what would happen. Things like the office or software upgrades weren’t massive commitments. This was bringing some youngster into a small group of people who are pretty self-sufficient and just came in to bust out work every day. Lots of stuff could go haywire. But I think between whatever amount of research we could do, our guts and some luck, it worked out for the best.

And even more importantly, Lindsie was able to really help out with the training and manager stuff. There’s no way I would’ve been able to take on that task with any degree of success. A nice reminder that I need to lean on the team more in 2020.

December & Beyond

This year ended with a lot less of that “will we survive another year” stress. It was still there, but things are a lot more optimistic. I think we finished the year with a lot of nice improvements. We upgraded our core tools (using SEOmonitor for rankings and OnCrawl for auditing). Added a 401k plan (note: need to hire someone to handle payroll/accounting). Brought Matt in full-time. And at least put some pieces in place for how we’re going to handle pricing and service offering variations going forward, some business goals and things like performance evaluations.

We also had our first holiday season in the office! And it actually felt like it. There were decorations and snacks and music and all that good stuff. You may think “big deal”, but when you’re working at home, your office often doesn’t change. So even if you put up a christmas tree or whatever in your house, the space where you work is static. Maybe that’s a failure on my part for not sprucing up my workspace, but it was super fun to experience this time of year at work for the first time in years.

The hope is 2020 is going to be a year of getting our act together. Not to say we’re in bad shape now, but we need to be as prepared as we can for the next phase of growth. I need to shift a lot of the administrative pieces of running a company elsewhere. Lindsie plays a very prominent role internally, but that needs to be made clearer externally. We need to get a concrete sales/marketing strategy in place to both help close deals but also guide us toward working with the right kinds of companies. All stuff that companies either wait too long to never do at all. I think we’re in a good place to where we can reasonably knock this stuff off our list and have fewer distractions or hindrances to making good things happen for clients.

This was a crazy year with a ton of growth and new expenses and additional responsibility. So this next year it has to be top priority to focus on fixing some of the fixable challenges, as it’s definitely not going to get easier without effort. The responsibility is just going to keep increasing. Unless something out of our control happens, we’re going to keep growing. It’s a scary thought, given this time last year I was working from the extra bedroom at home and holding meetings at coffee shops. But let’s face it, things would get boring without new challenges. And it’s way better to have some more colleagues to share the journey with rather than continuing to go it alone.

On balance, 2019 was a really good year. Here’s to making 2020 even better!

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