Benefits of building a business without working yourself to death

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Here at Quiet Light we often like to hire people who are just a bit smarter than us. Amanda Raab is one of those people. She has been helping our clients through her own expert entrepreneurial experience since 2012. Having started the famous Pure Pearls online retail company at just 25 years old, Amanda has gone on to buy and sell multiple businesses. She’s with us today talking about the benefits of building a business without working herself to death.

Amanda shares tips on how she’s acquired multiple businesses, outsourced their growth, and sold them successfully. The buy versus build topic truly never gets old and every time we talk to a guest about it there is something new to be learned. Amanda makes a good case for both.

Episode Highlights:

  • Amanda takes us back to how she got started in the online world.
  • Her pearl company story and the press surrounding her success.
  • What it took for Amanda to realize she could hire people to run her businesses.
  • The absentee owner business model that she’s been able to replicate several times over.
  • Reasons to hire someone who is good at every component of your business.
  • What Amanda looks for when she’s hiring and what building a solid team requires.
  • How much she manages her creatives and monitors their input.
  • Where Amanda lands on the buy vs build spectrum and why.
  • The first areas Amanda outsources when starting a business?
  • The last thing she would outsource.
  • Amanda’s number one piece of advice for buyers looking to invest in an internet business.

Transcription:

Joe: So one of the things that you and I have talked about over the last few years is that we keep hiring people that are smarter than us, maybe smarter than both of us combined which may not be saying much.

Mark: Yeah you set the bar pretty high there Joe.

Joe: For you anyway but Amanda is talking about a number of different things in this podcast coming up. Amanda and I started at the same time back in 2012 and I’m really looking forward to listening to it because honestly, I don’t know that much about her history. But every time a new broker connects with her, talks with her, they get kind of blown away with her experience. Walker, as we all know, wrote a bestselling book and we like to make fun of him and prod him on and we’re proud of him for it as well called Buy than Build and in this episode, Amanda’s doing the opposite. She’s talking about the benefits of building a business, outsourcing some of the things that people don’t like to do themselves, and then actually selling them off. Kind of the opposite of what Walker talked about.

Mark: I mean you’re right she’s kind of a more private person and I think I was working with her for three or four years before I realized that she was … or I even learned that she was featured in Time Magazine when she was in her young twenty’s for some of the entrepreneurial work that she was doing. And she actually had a documentary filmed on her about sourcing pearls from China of all things.

Joe: Oh.

Mark: Yeah I know right?

Joe: I didn’t even know that.

Mark: Yeah to think we’ve been working with her for seven years and you didn’t know that there was a full documentary on this person that we’ve been working with. And also that she was invited and actually spoke at a conference. Did you know this Joe? She actually spoke at a conference in the past.

Joe: She did?

Mark: I know right.

Joe: I have absolutely no idea. We’re underutilizing her talents. There’s no question about it.

Mark: That’s what I’m saying. And she is actually crazy smart, one of the most talented entrepreneurs that I know and have known. So in this conversation we ended up just talking a lot about her background because I wanted to find out just in this conversation what wisdom would come out and what revelation would come out of this and getting in a couple of things right away, finding out how did she start multiple businesses, grow them but not work herself to death because she’s always building a new house or a new rental property. She’s always got some other project with a business on the side. And then she’s been working with us for as long as she has. So her time management skills are great. So we talked about this idea of how do you outsource your business people. And I know we’ve covered this before on past podcasts but I don’t know if this topic really gets old because people are doing this in different ways and every time I talk to somebody about this I learn something new about how they’re doing it. And so I asked her what is the first thing that you outsource when you start a business? And I’m not going to share the answer now because it actually surprised me a little bit as to what the first thing was and what the last thing was that she does. And then we talked about this idea of is it better to actually build a business or is it better to acquire a business and when should you look at both options? And I thought it was a pretty good conversation, a very honest conversation as well that hey there’s room to actually start a business in this entrepreneurial world of ours where people might think we only want to talk about buying a business. She made a pretty good case for when it makes sense to actually start something from scratch. So a fun conversation honestly and really just lots of interesting tidbits of information throughout the entire podcast.

Joe: Well I think it goes to the depth and breadth of the quality of people that you’ve hired at Quiet Light over the years so I’m looking forward to listening to it. Let’s go on and so people can stop hearing us chatter.

Mark: Well I’m going to say one more thing. Joe, did you know that she decided to start an affiliate business and within four months became the number one super affiliate for that product?

Joe: You know I had no idea because the only one who I thought was ever a super affiliate was Jason because he wrote the Bathrobe Millionaire.

Mark: He’s our other author.

Joe: He’s our other author, our super affiliate. Wow, no I didn’t know that. She’s never said a word. I wasn’t—

Mark: Exactly, I love it. So anyway let’s get to know Amanda a little bit and hear some of her past and some of the things that she has to say about online business.

Joe: Let’s go to it.

Mark: All right Amanda thank you so much for finally agreeing to come in the podcast. I’ve been trying to get you on the podcast for a while but I know you’ve been building houses, building rental properties, doing business … starting businesses, and of course helping Quiet Light Brokerage clients as well.

Amanda: Yes, I’ve been busy that’s for sure.

Mark: That’s for sure.

Amanda: So now I have some down time and I decided to take on the challenge of doing one of these podcasts.

Mark: Yeah well, of course, doing the podcast is always a little bit interesting but I think again we’re just going to have a conversation here about your background and everything else. So I tell … I don’t want to embarrass you right off the bat here but when I talk about the Quiet Light Brokerage team to people I often say well Joe is a client, Jason is the one that kind of forced his way in the door of Quiet Light and I tried to scare him away by giving him all these awful leads and the next thing I know Jason is breaking every record in the book. Joe came on and has been doing the same. But when I talk about you I said … I always say one of the smartest buyers I’ve ever worked with. And that’s how you and I initially met; you were looking at one of my transactions … a deal I had. Do you remember that deal?

Amanda: Yes I do.

Mark: Yeah. Okay so … and a real lot of competition for that deal but of all the buyers you’re able to kind of hone in on some of the key metrics right away. [inaudible 00:06:06.8] was super impressed. I deal with a lot of buyers so super, super impressive. So let’s do this. Let’s go back a little bit to how you got started in the online world because you actually started with a website called PurePearls.com. You were featured in Time magazine at a super young age. And then you filmed a pearl documentary in China as well right?

Amanda: Yes it’s kind of crazy to think about it because that part of my life was much of a whirlwind. But I was actually in grad school when I started my pearl company and thought it would make a great hobby. Something as a creative outlet outside of the day to day just what I was doing already in grad school. And so it kind of just snowballed and I just loved it. I was super passionate about learning the business not just the pearl business but just e-commerce, internet marketing, what it would take to get in front of customers. And that opened up so many other opportunities from public relations to search engine optimization. At the time those were big channels for marketing and it just kind of went from there. At the time I was focused on the pearl company I realized there’s much broader market and I started getting interested in other opportunities as well. I was invited to a conference in DC to do a speaking engagement for Yanik Silver’s Mastermind Group. And as much as I do not like public speaking I decided to face my fears and do it. And I met so many awesome people there. And I just kind of basically looked at what everybody was doing and thought wow there’s just so many things that we can be doing with this internet space. And that was kind of a long time ago so I’m thinking that was probably around 15 years ago. So at that point, I just started another company and built that company, sold the pearl company because it was exploding at the time and I just … I couldn’t manage it all. So I kind of started small with my new company in the printing industry. So its check printing and I started five new websites. So I just kept building, building, building and developed relationship with manufacturers and started printing basically our own custom products. I scaled that up and realized that I could develop a team to make sure that was a lifestyle company and I didn’t have to be in the business. And that’s kind of where I got the idea of starting my self-company. Businesses that I did have to work in that I could work on building teams to run them and basically allowing me to do a lot of different things. And so I didn’t have to focus on just one niche.

Mark: I’ve just run being been in the business. I’ve met a guy over the weekend. I was at a conference in Los Angeles … not it the Internet marketing world it was just kind of a more generic business conference. And he used to be a professional fighter and then we were talking about his business career. He said well I have 13 companies so I founded 12 and acquired one. I’m like oh my goodness and he said well I don’t really do that much I’ve put teams in place. And we’ve talked about this on the podcast as well. We had Shakil Prasla on twice talking about this and how he hires CEO’s and puts people in place. And this seems to be kind of this recurring theme with a lot of what we’re doing here talking about that. At what point did you learn to put people in place with your companies? What did it take for you to be like you know what I’m going to hire people? Was it … well did you have kind of like a moment where it kind of struck you or was it more organic over time that you realized this is a good way to go?

Amanda: I’d say both; a combination. With my pearl company, I realized I needed to put systems in place because I wanted to do a lot of different things. And so I went to an event and I heard somebody speaking about outsourcing things that you don’t like to do. And I was like wow that’s really smart because when you run a business there are going to be things you don’t like to do. There are those dreaded tasks that you put off and put off and put off right? But you need to do them to run a functional business. And so at that point, I started outsourcing things for the pearl company. When I first started obviously I was wearing all the hats in the company but then I started hiring a customer service person. I was lucky enough to have somebody to handle all of the manufacturing and the shipping for me, the packaging so I don’t have to actually even touch the product. And from there I hired a marketing team, content writing and things like that. So basically all I did was make sure that the marketing was on point, develop new ideas for marketing channels, and keeping the books in line. And then when I brought on my new company Check Printing, a financial printing company, I kind of used the same system and developed it for that business and it worked really well. I started that from the very beginning and so it was very much an absentee owner business outside of me looking at new marketing channels and keeping the books and whatnot. And so I was able to replicate that with each of my other businesses as well. I think it comes out of a necessity because when you want to do a lot of things you realize you have to create these systems right? But also I don’t think you can be really good at everything and I’m not. And so you hire people that are really good at each individual component. So somebody who’s customer service is likely not to be the greatest at book keeping, right? And somebody who’s great at Search Engine Optimization may not be that great at Facebook Marketing. So I think it’s really important to hire somebody that is really in tune with each different component of the business. It just makes more sense.

Mark: Okay so we’re going completely off script here because we’re going to talk about the buying versus building and kind of building off of Walker’s episode that we filmed. You know Walker who is a … we always have to say now best-selling author Walker Diebel because he’s done such a great job with his book Buy than Build. People are like … we’re at CapCon this past weekend and we gave away his book and when people realize he was there like oh the author is here, oh that’s super cool and like he’s kind of a big deal. So we’ll get to this I do want to talk about building versus buying and making sort of the argument of why would you want to build a business someday. But I want to go back something you’re talking about here, hiring out different pieces. Okay, it sounds so easy to do to say hire a marketer and hire somebody who’s really good at what they’re doing. Okay, great. Look I’ve hired people before, I’ve fired people before, these are all … it’s usually in the agency sort of roles. When you’re looking for somebody to hire specifically for marketing let’s delve into that, how do you A. qualify them or what do you look for? Are you looking for an agency? Are you looking for an individual that works for you directly? Or does it really matter to you? And then also how do you … you said keep the marketing message on point? How? What are you doing to keep that marketing message on point and to check that?

Amanda: That’s a great question. I was actually reading something last night that said there’s no such thing as a getting rich quick scheme. They often take a lot of work to get there. Even though it sounds simple it’s actually really difficult. And it kind of goes with the same thing that success is like an iceberg, you only see the top part but there’s a huge component at the bottom to making that work. And so there’s a lot of trial and error with that to find the right person. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of hiring and letting go and finding somebody else because you learn what you don’t want, you learn what you actually need. And sometimes that can be an agency if they have all those components built in. So if they have everybody you’re looking for and they’re doing exactly what they say they’re going to do and holding themselves accountable then great since that makes sense. And to me, that’s ideal because there’s less hand-holding and less training involved. A lot of times though, it does involve finding one contractor to do something very specific. And it does require constant monitoring to make sure that they’re staying on task and basically meeting those milestones that you’ve put in place for them. So I think that building that team does come with trial and error. It does come with some unfortunate firing of team members because they’re not performing. But at the end of the day finding those quality team members are what kind of drive your business. So it’s really important to stay on top of it.

Mark: Yeah and I think it’s important as well when talking about letting people go. Like this is the unfortunate part of being an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to let people go. But I do think it’s important to look at the options available to you as well. Maybe like you said somebody is really better suited for customer service and you can really apply that. I often think about like sports teams and what do they do right? Sports teams are often handicapped by who they actually have on their teams and so a lot of times they play to the strengths of the team members that they currently have. And so this is something that for those of you that are currently like me that kind of cringe at the idea of letting people go this is something that you can do; it’s invest in the people that you do have to find out where they do thrive. That doesn’t mean that you should just need and see hold on to somebody. Everybody is an adult and should understand that obviously, it has to be a good fit. But you can definitely invest in people as well. How involved do you get with that marketing message when you are taking a look? Let’s say that you hire somebody to do some Facebook Marketing for you and they’re going to set up the creatives and everything else. How closely are you monitoring their ad work and how much are you kind of saying okay I’m going to let you run and possibly fall and this is your gig … I guess my question is how do you avoid micromanaging versus letting them run wild with a completely wrong message?

Amanda: Well that’s a good question because I think that first of all I am a natural manager and anybody in my family will tell you that … so especially when it has to do with your marketing dollars and getting a return on investment. However, there are things that I just don’t know how to do really well and … for example Facebook Marketing or an email, like Amazon PPC or something of that nature. And a lot of times you will be told that they need a ramp up period so they can kind of test campaign. See what’s working and then dial in on a more targeted marketing after they do broader match term. And so they do require a period of time to really get those conversions up or an Amazon to take the a-cost down and so with that I really only check in every three months to see if they are meeting our goal. And if they’re not then you have to decide okay am I going to give them another three months period or do I need to move on? And so … I mean it really depends on what it is, what channel. Obviously, with SEO, there is a really long period of time that you kind of have to wait to see if its working and that can be really hard for people who are not patient enough. Because with Google with all of the algorithms that have come through in the last couple of years it can take a lot longer than it did previously before that in the old school days to get results. So it just really depends whether it’d be Instagram, Facebook, where I think you can see a lot quicker results versus Amazon or Google PPC and SEO. It’s just a completely different ballgame.

Mark: Are you an old enough internet marketer … and I don’t want to call you old but are you old school enough to remember the Google Dance?

Amanda: Yes. Am I showing my age now? Absolutely.

Mark: I’m so glad that we got that recorded that I’m here calling you old publicly to everybody. No, I just … you know I often … I love talking to entrepreneurs. I have been doing this for a while because we remember the Google Dance. Every 30 days or 45 days and then the forms will light up like all right the Google Dance is happening and you’d want to see where you … everything is shook out and did you gain, did you lose? How—

Amanda: Worse than the stock market. I tell you … unbelievable, yes. I don’t miss that. There’s a lot more opportunities for diversification now it seems so—

Mark: Yeah. I think Google has done a good job of … because if you got edged out by like a spammy site or somebody that was just been [inaudible 00:19:19.4] the search results you’re done.

Amanda: Right.

Mark: You had to wait 30 days minimum to be able to correct it and it was just torture but exciting at the same time. All right let’s get to the topic that we were going to talk about. I want to talk a little bit about building versus buying. And I know I brought this up with Chuck at CapCon and he’s like why would you guys talk about this? You’re going to shoot yourself in the foot because we obviously make our money when people buy businesses from us. But there’s an argument to be made as well especially for creatives for building something. So let’s start right there and just ask you’ve done both, you’ve bought businesses and you’ve built businesses.

Amanda: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Where do you fall kind of on that spectrum and why?

Amanda: Well I’m more on the builder side. I’m just a natural builder, a natural creator. I love the challenge of it. I love actually creating something from nothing. That is very much who I am. And you can’t buy something without having somebody to build it right? So there is the other side of that coin and so somebody has to build a business, hopefully, a great business for a buyer to want to invest in. And so I love talking about building businesses because that’s really where I’m passionate. I’m also very analytical as you know with data and statistics and marketing. And so I just … I think that when you’re looking at buying a business versus building I think there’s great opportunity for both right? If you’re … if you have a portfolio of businesses for example like Shakil does and obviously he’s willing to buy businesses because he doesn’t want to invest the time to just necessarily or take the time to grow because they have a team ready to jump into something and run with it. Whereas I like to take some time to build it and see kind of where it’s going to go and then run with it that way more organically. And that’s kind of where my passion lies. And I like to kind of have that control of what I’m … the product how it’s being made, packaged, the overall message around it. And that goes with pretty much everything whether I’m building a home or a business kind of my thoughts on it.

Mark: Yeah and I met him. You’ve built multiple properties physical like … since you’ve been with Quiet Light one rental property, two homes at least that I know of.

Amanda: Yes, three.

Mark: Three? Wow.

Amanda: Uh-huh.

Mark: Holy cow. And I know you’re really involved in the design process as well. When we met down in Austin you’ve had floor samples and everything like that in the car because you were going through all this. You do like to get in to that. Do you think it makes more sense? Let’s just talk purely investment strategy here from just an investment standpoint. So I’m looking to place money into something and really kind of grow from a financial standpoint, do you think that there’s a benefit in buying versus building in that scenario?

Amanda: Today it is harder. It’s more competitive to build. There’s no doubt about it. It’s much harder than when I started out. When I built my pearl company it was in 2003. We launched in 2004. Obviously, that was a total different time, kind of similar with my check manufacturing company. And then with Amazon, I still think that there’s easy room for building obviously and even with Facebook Marketing you can see some pretty quick growth there. But there is something to be said for businesses that have really paved the way and are established and the foundation is there. And so I think it just depends on how you want to invest and so if you want to invest in something that’s established and that has a history, a foundation that’s already been done, they’ve already built a team for you and you’re just walking right into it. That makes for a very sound and smart decision versus taking a risk and just seeing where it takes you in building a business. Because I mean I’ve experienced this, I’ve built a lot of businesses that haven’t been successful either because I either burnt out or the marketing just didn’t pan out. But I’ve learned from those and so I think one of my greatest successes is built off of just learning from the failure and then building off of that platform. So I think there’s something to be said for both. From an investment standpoint though I’d say if you’re looking to invest in something investing in a business that’s established makes more sense. So I guess it’s just different. I am a creator and a builder but at the same time, I do like to invest in sound vehicles so I’ve done both.

Mark: I’ve asked this question to a few people before. If you were to guess how many domains you own right now how many would it be?

Amanda: Oh gosh I don’t know. And I’d hate to look because I’m sure I’m spending a lot of money just wasting away.

Mark: Yeah.

Amanda: Yes I actually purchased domains for my daughters as well because I don’t know where this internet space is going and so I just want them to have the opportunity when the time is right. So yes I have a lot of wasted domain right now.

Mark: Yeah I’ve logged in to my domain account and it’s kind of like going down memory lane of bad business ideas or maybe—

Amanda: Yes isn’t it?

Mark: They’re not always bad but some of them are bad. Some of them are like oh my gosh what was … was my diet bad when I did that … decided to because this is—

Amanda: The someday businesses; yes, what I might do someday.

Mark: Exactly, there’s a couple in there like you know what I actually still want to do that. It’s just a matter of A. it doesn’t pay anybody if I do it and B. the prime.

Amanda: Right.

Mark: But I think before that you were actually getting on to a point that I thought was really interesting and I found this with buyers. You’ve been with Quiet Light now seven years I think?

Amanda: Yes, seven going on I think eight; crazy.

Mark: I know right? So you’ve dealt with a lot of buyers over the years as well and I find that buyers tend to be … tinkers a lot right? The people that love to buy and do really well they’re great at taking something existing, tinkering, modifying it, improving it. But a lot of buyers … and this is speaking generally; this is the rule for everybody. The creative process of starting up something from scratch and having to create and have that runway isn’t really of interest to them. You know those are things that kind of bore them. And I know in Walker’s book he talks about this. He starts out saying that he had start-up companies and they … it failed, including companies that received quite a bit of funding. And that process, that ramp up period was really painful. But once he started buying he really enjoyed that part of it. That was super exciting to him. So I think some of it does come to just personality.

Amanda: Yes.

Mark: What do you get excited about? You are a creator. You’re a creative person. You love design. You love creating systems and you are data driven and data oriented. So that makes sense that you are going to really go towards that starting side to help exercise some of those creative muscles. So what are some of the first areas that when you’re starting a business you like to outsource?

Amanda: Obviously, the website design that would be the first step and it really depends on what the business is. But the first step would be product manufacturing, a website design, and how to start your first layer of marketing. And I would outsource all of that. And basically, I would just be managing that process to make it look and feel like I want it to so the business imparts the message that I want to integrate into the business. But that part is the hardest part I think of running a business. It does require a lot of thought, creativity, and management. At the same time for me, that’s really what drives me when I’m creating something. That push and that challenge is what I look forward to everyday or stay up super late at night thinking about. And so I think it really is important to start outsourcing from the beginning. Because I’m obviously not a manufacturer, not a web designer, and I don’t do the day to day marketing per se. I hire all of that out.

Mark: Yeah and I’ve heard it a lot. Start at the beginning don’t try and run a bootstrap with and then think that it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be easy just to hand that off because it’s really hard as an entrepreneur to do that. What’s the last thing that you would outsource?

Amanda: Probably bookkeeping, to be honest, because … yeah, it pains me to say because I want everybody to have clean books right? But the last thing for me is bookkeeping because I know how to get a bank account and a credit card. That’s easy; those are things that most people can do if we’re generic. But running your books, you actually need to have a history of at least a couple of months and so it’s pretty easy to integrate that into Quick Books or whatnot from your bank statement. So typically that’s the last thing I would hire out because it seems to me that it doesn’t take them very long to catch up.

Mark: That’s interesting. So I’m actually reversed on that. I like to outsource books first because I just don’t enjoy it at all.

Amanda: Right.

Mark: And like you said outsource the stuff that you don’t enjoy and keep things that you do so cool. Well, this has been interesting, it’s been useful, it’s not everything that we planned to talk about but I actually liked what we talked about and that there was something interesting. So I’m going to end with this, you’ve been advising buyers and sellers for a long time now and most of the people that listen to the podcast are looking to buy, there are some people selling. If you were to give one piece of advice for people buying an online business whether it’d be through Quiet Light Brokerage or through any other place; you find it online or another brokerage firm, what would be just kind of the one thing that you would advise people on?

Amanda: I think the best thing that you can do is take some time to research just overall broad marketplace. Don’t just look at a few packages. Really allow yourself several months at least to get a good feel of what’s a good fit for you. There are so many different models of businesses, SaaS businesses, Amazon, to e-commerce and so forth and so one may seem more attractive to you. It may not necessarily need to be a certain niche but it may just be a certain type of model that is attractive. And I just want to add to that that the other thing that I recommend is don’t basically pigeonhole yourself into a certain niche because you might find a business that doesn’t have an attractive product but everything else could be right; the lifestyle component, the workload, the margin, the net profitability. And so I think that’s really important to keep an open mind.

Mark: Awesome. Well, hey, thanks, Amanda for coming on the podcast. I really do appreciate you coming on and I’m sure everybody else will as well. Everybody knows where to reach you, amanda@quietlightbrokerage. If you have questions about buying, about starting, about … you know or just have really general questions about this I will stand by the fact that your entrepreneurial background speaks for itself. And I think the success that you’ve had repeatedly speaks for itself. So we appreciate you sharing some of the wisdom you’ve gained over the years of doing this entrepreneurial thing that we do and everything else.

Amanda: Yeah.

Mark: So hopefully we can have you on again sometime in the future but we’ll wait a year or so before we do.

Amanda: Yes please do.

Mark: All right.

Amanda: Well thank you, Mark. I appreciate it. Have a great day.

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