Most fresh graduates from college have the default mindset of being impressionable and rushing into things just to get to their destination. This is perfectly understandable and normal because almost the same thing happened to Jason Swenk. It was the dot com era and he was hired into a company like he was a college football superstar. His computer degree helped him perform in his job but he realized that sitting around and trying to be significant didn’t make him feel fulfilled. He knew what he was good at and saw clearly what he was passionate about, so he started building confidence that he could do it on his own and start his own business and went through the phonebooks to offer his services. Jason shares his experiences of self-awareness to understand the needs and challenges of his clients.
Building Confidence To Grow Your Business with Jason Swenk
My guest is a business expert who was fired from his first job for being basically unemployable. Jobless and directionless, he had to figure out what to do next. Then he started building websites for friends which started to go really well and grew that into a successful company, but something was wrong. Even as a success, he fell into deep periods of introspection where he tried to figure out what his true value to others really was. The business was going well but he didn’t feel as if his life was, so he sold the company. It took a while, but he finally realized what his true calling was and never looked back. Today he leads a successful media and consulting agency helping other agencies grow. Jason Swenk, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
This is a great story, Jason. You started like a lot of us. You left college and got a job. You did it maybe one of the worst times ever for college kids to graduate. Tell us about that time in your life.
Actually, I think it was probably one of the best times. I had a computer degree right around the dot-com era. Every big business was recruiting us like we were football stars. We were getting signing bonuses. It was an incredible time. I just remember working there and I hated it. Literally, I was trying to get fired. It was just a blessing that one of my friends looked like Justin Timberlake and NSYNC was popular back then. I was like, “I’m just going to mess up this web thing and create this website called NSHIT.” It got popular and then people started asking me to design websites. I’m like, “That’s what I’m going to do.” I had no clue what an invoice was. I remember my first client asked me for an invoice. I had to ask my dad, “What’s an invoice, dad?” Google wasn’t around, this is in ’99. Quickly, I just started learning by the fire hose. I don’t like change all the time, but I like innovation and technology and always have to have the newest gadgets. It was just a really cool path that I picked.
You were working. You had a job and you certainly didn’t enjoy it. Did you do both at the same time for a while?
No. At the time, it was right when the market started turning around. I was just sitting around because they didn’t have any work for us to do. I was like, “What can we do?” Literally, we were consultants with nothing. It was just a really boring time. I have to always be creating something, probably like how you did when you sold your company like, “Now what? Am I supposed to play golf and die? How can I be significant to other people?”
You were at Arthur Andersen and you’ve got nothing to do. Were you creating websites for your friends while at Arthur Andersen or did you finish that job before you started that?
I created that website making fun of my friends. My first client was a realtor and he came to me and said, “I’d like you to create a website.” I’m like, “Yeah, $500.” I did that and they liked it, and the next person came to me. I think they were a lawyer at Syfrett and Dykes. I did that and they loved it. I didn’t even count that as a business. Then I got fired. I was like, “Maybe I can do this thing.” Literally, I went through the phonebook. For all those young people, that is actually a book with numbers and names that you can actually call. You can call these people and say, “I notice you don’t have a website.” Literally, I went through the Yellow Pages first rather than the White Pages. I just looked if they had a URL, I didn’t call them. I was like, “You want a website? Al Gore invented the internet and this is the new thing.” They’re like, “What is it?” Then I’ll explain to them and then sold it to them. I was like, “This is awesome.” Because I was used to living off nothing, like ramen noodles and whatever. Then I just started upping my prices. Then I hired someone which started working out really well. I was like, “I’m responsible for someone,” and it just kept growing from there.
I guess what you had at the time was hustle. A lot of people, their goal was to get a job. It’s funny because I was just talking to my daughter about this. She just got her first job out of college. She loves it, she’s thrilled there and everything is going well. I said to her, “You’re now a cog in the machine. You can go one of three ways. You could stay a cog in the machine and love it. You could become a bigger cog in the machine or someday you could start your own machine.” She goes, “That’s what I want to do.” I said, “In order to do that, you’ve got to start saving.” I’m trying to give her some fatherly lessons about how to proceed at a school and take control of your life early on. Like many people, they are doing the 9 to 5 and then after 9 to 5, they do the 5 to 9. From 5 to 9, they’re working on their business. They are looking for guys like you, Jason, to share what it was that got them to the next step. Even if it was just a little step, one step at a time. For you, was it your hustle? Was it picking up the Yellow Pages and just starting to get clients? Where you do think you got that desire, maybe even that first break in going forward?
Literally, it was just doing it. Whenever I look at people I work with or other people out there, I just don’t find anybody working and implementing as fast. I could care less if it’s perfect, “I’ll fix it later.” I’m just getting it out there, I’m testing it. I’m doing it faster than anybody. If I have an idea for a program, everything will be done and people will be loaded in there within a week versus other people may take forever thinking like, “How do I make this perfect?” or whatever it is. I think that’s just something that you learn when you’re growing up of not being afraid of failing or just taking the initiative.
I used to teach people how to race cars. I would go to them and I’ll be like, “We’re going to go through this corner at over 100 miles per hour.” They’d look at me like, “You are bat crazy. I don’t want to die.” At the end of the day, I started looking at it and going, “If I show you a plan of how to do it, and actually demonstrate it, you’re going to have the confidence. I think the biggest thing is realizing that we can do so much more if we have confidence and we know what we actually want to accomplish. We knew a couple of things going into the corner. We didn’t want to die and we wanted to go through it really quick and leverage that turn in order to win the actual race. I just demonstrated that they could actually do it. I showed them a plan, I walked them through it. The amazing thing yet is they actually got faster than me. The thing between our ears is what’s usually holding us back the most. I remember taking the business from nothing, from $500 websites to $1 million to $2 million, and so on and so on and so on. There is really no difference other than my mindset. There’s no difference of selling $1,000 website or $1 million website. It’s literally just a mindset.
I know that you deal with agencies. It’s the mindset that stops anybody from doing things like raising their prices or going after that A-level client when you’re used to dealing with C-level clients. How do you overcome that?
It’s from experience. It’s about knowing who you’re going after and realize that they’re human. They have basic needs. If you can tell a different story rather than your own. Think about if you’re at a conference and some dude comes up to you and he starts talking about himself the whole time. You’re like, “How can I get away from this dude? This guy is creeping me out. It’s bad conversation.” Versus someone coming up to you and asking you questions, “Why did you come to this conference? What do you want to learn? What do you want to do? What’s your challenges?” You’re like, “I like this conversation.” Why? Because it’s about you. If you can tell a different story and tell their story and understand what they want, that’s why it’s so important to pick a niche. To understand and not say, “I’m going after everybody or I’m going after small business.” People that say that, they’re crazy because they’re not willing to niche down into a particular segment to truly understand what their biggest challenges are or what do they want to transform into? Then we can provide things in order to help them or give them the confidence or a plan then you can crush it. It also comes down to not making decisions on money as well.
We all see those crappy Facebook ads out there like, “This is the silver bullet. Leave your 9 to 5 job. I’m on a sailboat making $1 million,” all that kind of stuff. I tell people, “If you want that, you don’t need to focus on that right away. You need to find something that you have a lot of knowledge in, a lot of passion, absolutely love. Then it will grow.” You’ll be able to attain those things in the after mark. You won’t care about them because at the end of the day, those things are completely useless. There’s a lot of filthy rich people that are completely miserable jumping off buildings. Make the decision the right way.
A lot of people don’t know what it is that they can do or what they want to do. There is that thing called shiny object syndrome. I was one of those people at one point in my life where I would buy a program for a few thousand dollars and I would go through the program and probably not get the results I paid for. I didn’t feel any better. I didn’t really resonate that well. What did I do? I bought another program and I tried to figure out what that was. I think it’s easy to say, “Just be passionate about whatever it is that you are,” but what about for those who aren’t? What about for those who were saying, “You are smart and successful but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do in my life.” Where do I go for that?
It takes time. It takes self-awareness. You have to figure that out. No one can tell you what you need to do. Whenever I start working with someone, and they’re like, “What industry is the most profitable?” I’m like, “That’s the wrong question. You have to do a self-evaluation and figure that out first. If you can’t figure out the passion, what makes you happy? What do you have knowledge in? What do you love doing? If you can’t figure that out, you’ve got to spend time doing it.” When I sold my business, it took me about a year and a half to two years to do this particular business. At that time, I was writing a blog. I was starting to create some videos, and no one was watching. I was like, “I’m just not getting any attraction. I’m not having any significance. What’s going on?” Then as soon as I started narrowing down into something I had passion behind, I started coming up with, “What do I want? Why am I actually creating something?” I started looking for my why. My why was creating something I wish I had because when I was running my business, I felt isolated, I felt alone. I felt like I had a lack of knowledge, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want people to feel that anyway running an agency. I started putting free information out there.
The amazing thing that happened was I was putting this out all free, people started reaching out to me. They’ll be like, “This is changing everything. This is changing my life.” It really gave me that significance that I needed, that I had within my agency before I sold it. I think it just takes time and you can’t rush it like everybody wants something tomorrow or right now. If you just enjoy the journey, I bet if you started thinking about your career and the businesses that you’ve done, the biggest memories I have were the hard points that we experience, that we went through. At the time, I wanted to forget them but looking back, “If I made it through that, I can make it through next.” Another thing I think you were mentioning was, “You’re different.” I’m like, “No. I’m actually probably a lot dumber than all of you listening.” I don’t read books. I hate reading books. That’s kryptonite to me. I didn’t even know what an invoice was. I had to figure it all out. Literally, the only think I learned in college was to outsource. I was delegating and then I would pay people to do my stuff. That’s all I learned. What I had was I was resourceful enough. I think that’s what people need. You need to be resourceful and you need to look at the programs out there. I love programs, so I take some programs but I don’t treat it as a silver bullet. I treat it as, “I can build upon what they had. I can mine it and I can shape my own silver bullet.” I think if you go into things with that kind of expectation and that kind of perception, it would be a lot more successful. You’ll get a lot more out of it. Even if you pick one little thing out of it. You’re like, “How can I morph this into my own?” That’s what I’ve always done.
Jason Swenk says, “Do what makes you happy. Do what you have knowledge in. Look at what it is that you feel passionate about and be resourceful.” The challenge is, “Where are you with those four questions? What is it that makes you happy? Follow that path and find out where it leads you.” Another thing you said, Jason, which I really like is that what motivated you was one of the things that motivated me. You said, “I like to create something I wish I had.” That’s how I started my software company when I first did. I had to create what it was I wish I had or else I wouldn’t have it. I think that’s a great way to think about how do I start a company. What do you need that somehow is not available? A lot of us consumers have the mindset that anything we need, we should be able to buy. Entrepreneurs have the mindset that, “What is it that I need that I cannot buy and I wish I had?” That’s a great question to start with. What was it that you wanted, Jason, that you really wish you had? Was it the fact that you were able to help agencies really get started and stay motivated?
It was more of what I lacked when I was going through it, and this is what everybody lacks is knowledge. What to do next? Obviously, this is the first time going through it. I just wanted to create a community. I wanted to create a utility in order for them to figure out, “I’m going through X, what do I need to do? What do I need to be aware of?” Not to follow it to the T, because everybody is unique. Every situation is different and the market changes. What extra little steps I need to be aware of? Then that’s how we make decisions in our company now. That’s how I give the power to our team of going, “We need to be the best resource in the world for agency owners and agencies. We’re creating resources we wish we had. If that decision is yes and it helps them, then we do it.” That’s the simple thing that we do. The thing that separates us is obviously our unhealthy obsession over the market that we’re trying to help. Literally, that’s all we think about, unfortunately. When I’m about to go to sleep at night, I’ll be like, “I need to create a video about that.” I remember I woke up from a nightmare sweating because a client fired me or whatever it was. Then you’re just like, “I need to create a video on that to help someone. To let them know that they’re not alone, to give them the confidence, to give them the guidance, give them the plan and then they’re better off.
Tell us about your business, Jason. How long ago did you start your current company?
A little over four years ago. I worked for a big organization after I sold because I had to do something. It’s by a necessity and it just quickly grown over time. The couple of hints I’ll tell you is think of the system. I’ll give you the first four systems that you need to create in order to be successful. They are the foundational systems. Everybody always thinks about to create a business, what do you need? You need new business. You need to create leads, “Let me create this lead generation system and think about hiring a company to do a pipeline and all these kind of stuff.” If you don’t have the foundation first, you’re screwed. Clarity, we’ve already talked about that. We’ve got to think about what do we want to create, who do we want to help and why are we doing it. When I created my business when I got fired from Arthur Andersen, there was no clarity. It was like, “Yellow Pages, you want a website?” For years and years, it was that way. I never could know what to say yes to or what to say no to or give the power to my team in order to do that because there was no direction. The boat was just drifting in the Atlantic Ocean and we didn’t know where the boat was going versus having a motor, “We’re going to Hawaii.”
The next system is positioning. How do you position yourself as the trusted advisor? That person that’s guiding you, like in any good story like Star Wars. Luke Skywalker has his trusted advisor Obi-Wan or Yoda. They’re guiding him. Your whole positioning needs to be around that prospect. Not you, no one cares about your awards. I always laugh about people always touting their awards. Then I started doing some research. There was a commercial, it also had Darth Vader in it, a Volkswagen commercial. It had that little kid dressed up as Darth Vader and he does the Force to the car and the car turns on because dad had the little remote start and he thought it was the biggest thing. It won all these awards. Then they looked at the next six months, the next year, the next year all tanking. Awards don’t mean anything. Don’t tout your awards or all the press that you’ve been in. No one cares. They care about themselves how you can actually help. Think about your positioning.
The next is around your offering. Don’t pitch marriage right off the bat. I don’t know if your audience is mostly service-based companies or product-companies, whatever it is. Don’t lead with your features. No one cares about your features. Think of Apple. There is like, “What can you actually do with our iPad? What can you do with our iPhone? What can you create to be a better person or be a better creator?” They don’t lead with 15 megahertz and all those kind of stuff. That’s a byproduct. If you do those well, now you have the foundation in order to go to prospecting, and you’ll crush it.
I would add one small element to that which I think supercharges everything you just said, and that is social proof. I think without social proof, even if you don’t have it, there are ways to get it relatively easily. With social proof, then what you say is believable. Nobody trusts us because we say it, because it’s on our website. We could make up even our awards. No one’s going to go back and find out if I really did was nominated for Inc. Entrepreneur of the Year in 1997. Who knows? The thing that matters is what other people say about you. That actually becomes more significant than anything you could say about yourself. As we build our businesses, the most important thing that we could do is a byproduct of the great work we do is to get others to talk about us too. Wouldn’t you agree?
Yeah. It’s all around authority. When you can do that in authentic way and other people are telling your story or their story that other people can relate, it’s just a good positioning. When you start positioning authority card, I treat it as like putting salt on a steak. If you put too much salt on a steak, it’s completely ruined. If you don’t put enough salt on it, it doesn’t taste as good. You’ve got to be gentle with that and be resourceful. I’ve seen people create fake testimonials and all that kind of stuff. If you can get other people creating generated content for you, that’s what really a brand is. It is what do people talk about after when you’re not in the room. How do they describe who you are, what you do, how you help them and just focus on that positioning, that second system. That’s what eliminates your competition. I always tell people, “I don’t have competition. My only competition is cat videos and procrastination.”
Most of us are at a point now where we’re starting to get started in business. Most of my listeners are at a point where things are starting to go well, but they really need to ratchet up the action. How do we ratchet up the action, Jason?
Focus, which stands for Finish One Commitment Until Success. We get distracted and we try to knock out a thousand things. When we don’t have that goal that we’re going after, we rank them in the wrong priorities. If you’re constantly saying to yourself that, “I’m overwhelmed,” it’s because you’ve given too much priority with too many things. You need to pick the biggest item. Make a list, focus on that biggest impact item and focus on completing that first until you go onto the next, rather than going after the little ones. There’s a great analogy that someone did. I can’t remember who so I can’t give credit, but this is not mine. Let’s say you have two glasses the same size. You have a bunch of pebbles and you have this baseball. If you put all the little pebbles in the cup first and then you put the baseball and the baseball is going to be overflowing in the cup versus, if you put the baseball in first and then the pebbles, the pebbles will form around the baseball and will fit perfect in. Meaning, do the big impact items first.
Basically, have a to-do list of one thing and be relentless about getting it done before you move on to the next. My list is a little bit longer than one thing. I basically subscribe to the same idea. I have three key things that I try to accomplish every day. I use a program called My Checklist. I don’t even know if it’s published anymore. It really helps me focus because it allows me to just make sure that my highest priorities are in front of me at all times. I love the thought and the idea of doing that. I think it’s great advice. What do you do for your clients, Jason? When somebody brings your company on and says, “We’re going to hire Jason Swenk to help our agency.” What is it that you do for them?
The end goal is to transform them into what they want to become and give them a plan, and give them confidence in order to do that. At the end of the day, that’s what I do.
When you get a client, tell us about what you do to on-board them. I think this could be valuable for any company.
That’s why I’ve created a lot of online programs. When I first get a client, I have to understand exactly what they want and what they want to become. Then I walk them through some foundational systems that they need to go through in order to set. We’ve already covered some of them. We need to know who are we going after. What are some of my goals? If we’re mountain climbers and we want to climb Mt. Everest, okay, great. We want to climb Mt. Everest, but what are the strategies in order to get there? Then from the strategies, what are the tasks that we have to do? Then we just start working through it. It’s always custom with mine, but at the agency was a little different. Our on-boarding process is a lot easier because we were doing very similar things over and over again rather than a consultant. A consultant is just everything is always changing and you’ve got to customize it for the actual client, and base on what they’re needs because everybody is unique. What I’ll do is I’ll give them access to the systems that they need to go through first, and then we’ll just start knocking them out, one by one. Biggest impact done first.
Without a good onboarding process, it’s hard to know what your end goal will really be. The reason I think that way is because for myself, when I bring a client onboard, one of the things that I really, really focus on, I spend two hours with a new client trying to basically define and design what their end future goal looks like by the time we’re done working together. If you don’t do that with a client, whether it’s a short engagement, a long engagement, whether it’s a product sale that’s been positioned to work inside of a larger organization, you can’t get to the end goal. I love to ask that question, it helps me to clarify what I think a lot of people need to do. Let’s go on to the next question, Jason. This has more about what you want and what your goals are into the future. What are you looking for? What would you love to have that you don’t have right now?
I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I have amazing clients, I have an amazing team, amazing family. We’re all healthy. We’re breathing. We can travel anywhere we want, live anywhere we want. My biggest thing is just to stay motivated and be grateful. That’s really it.
We have a lot of listeners who might be directly in your business or might not be. If there’s somebody listening and would love to either find out more about you, and maybe offer to help you in some way, how could they get in touch with you?
Go to Swenk.it. It links to my podcast and my vlog and a couple of other free information out there.
Tell me about your podcast, I’d love to hear more about that.
I have two shows I do. One is called the Smart Agency Master Class. This is where I interview other successful agency owners all around the world that share their stories. Then I have another show that I do on a daily basis, both on YouTube as well as on iTunes and all the major publications out there called the Swenk Today Show. It’s basically a daily vlog where I give you one strategy a day or one thinking point that you need to think about in order to take your business, take your life to the next level. I just share to you what’s working with in this business right now. It’s taking off or what’s not working. Some episodes that we do is like, “Damn, revenue tanked.” Here’s what we’re doing about it because I don’t what to paint the picture as always sunshine and rainbows and unicorns because it’s not. I want you to see the struggle that we go through, show you the successes that we have, just so to give you the guidance to morph your own silver bullet.
Jason, I have another question for you. I like this question because it really helps me see inside the person I’ve been talking to. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
It would be my dad. He passed away three years ago, so I’d love to have another afternoon with him.
When I ask this question, I get such great answers and occasionally, people come up with family members that they missed deeply. I’m working on it. There’s a need, it needs to be filled. I think we can come up with the machine that will help with that, but that’s a different project. Next question, this is the grand finale. This is the change the world question, Jason. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
Give more people confidence.
How would you do that?
Just showing them what’s possible and give them a plan in order to build upon. Everything that drives us that’s what we do.
Nothing happens until we think it possible. Once it’s thought possible, then anything is possible.
Everything big starts off small. Literally, I remember my dad telling me because he went to high school with the guy that ran under the four-minute mile. He’s the first one that I think run a mile in under four minutes or something like that or five minutes. As soon as that person did it, more people followed because everybody knew it was possible.
Jason, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you for sharing so much about yourself and about how others can follow in your footsteps and really get a leg up in what they’re doing today. I hope again that we get a chance to meet.
Thanks for having me, Mitch. For all of you, make sure you swenk it and make sure you take action.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Jason Swenk
- Jason Swenk’s YouTube
- Swenk Today Show iTunes
- Swenk Today Show
- Smart Agency Master Class