The Day Dan Benjamin Made Me Cry

One day in March of 2012, Dan Benjamin made me cry. 

We were chatting about business. He had ideas for StevieSnacks, good ideas, but ideas that fueled my anxiety. I explained the 18 month backlog of lessons in my brain. Lessons that I've not yet taught. Today's ideas will go on a big pile that I have to carry until I've caught up with the lessons I wanted to teach last year. And that depresses me. My body has to produce what my mind dreams up, but my body is much slower than my mind.

After I was done whining, Dan began to lecture me. I want you to see exactly what he wrote.

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"They cost you time and money".

I knew I was in trouble when I read that.

Then Dan launched into a lengthy description of what my business could be like. This is a summary of what he wrote:

Imagine a world where you come into the studio and everything is already set up for you. You just get right to the teaching, other people are handling the video work. When you're done shooting for the day, you can work on planning another series, or run errands. Your team knows your standards, and your creative style. They make most of the choices you'd make. The next day your producer calls you because you need to stop by the studio to choose between a few endings. By the end of the week the course is finished and available in your store. Your team helps you to produce the lessons you love faster than you ever could.

After he finished painting this picture for me, he wrote something that burned itself into my memory. 

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“This is how you are able to make more videos”.

I sat and stared at the screen. Then I cried.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how heavy StevieSnacks had become. For 4 years I had been doing nearly everything myself. Nobody could help me, it all was all on my shoulders. If I stopped, the business stopped. I had been carrying around the weight of a warehouse of ideas with no relief in sight.

I was searching for a way to produce more videos in less time, by myself. Dan's words cut deep. There was only one way to achieve this. I had to build a business where other people could help me produce my lessons and handle the business tasks that were taking up so much of my time.

That month I began searching for someone to help out.  As it turned out, the same person that had been helping with customer support also had a history in video production. All I had to do was ask. I had plenty of money, too much work, and very little time. His situation was the exact inverse of mine. 

Several days into the training process, I left my office to go to lunch while he stayed behind editing the next set of premium lessons. For the first time in 4 years I was not working, but work was still being done. My business was progressing while I took a break. I'll never forget that feeling. Less than two months later, I no longer had to edit any of my premium lessons.

I don’t know why I stopped.

Losing Focus

At some point I stopped delegating. I stopped viewing certain parts of my job as optional. I got comfortable with a 90/10 split of the responsibilities. That’s when I began to get distracted.

Instead of delegating more of my tasks, instead of freeing up more of my time, I began to take on outside projects. It made perfect theoretical sense. I could make additional income while offloading most of the work to my newly trained editor. Simple, right?

The problem was this. I didn't NEED more income. What causes me anxiety is not lack of money, but lack of time. Lack of time to create lessons that have been in my head for over a year.

Pretty soon I was creating proposals, estimating costs, sending invoices, paying invoices, coordinate trips, and delivering files. One day I found myself signing incorporation papers at a law firm. I barely had time to pay attention to what was happening.

In addition to all these new tasks, I was still doing 90% of the work for StevieSnacks. My focus was slipping and I couldn't even feel it.

I sprinted into December and slid into the biggest holiday season in StevieSnacks history. I limped across the finish line into January, exhausted and ready for a break. As the holiday smoke cleared, I began to think about what kind of awesome creative projects we would tackle in 2013.

Questions appeared. What kind of projects? Who would find them? Who would manage them? When would I work on new lessons? I brushed those questions to the side and went back to playing Battlefield 3.

Then I went to Winter NAMM where I woke up.

The entire first day was full of conversations with customers, industry contacts, customers who were industry contacts, even colleagues that some would consider my competition. Suddenly my "other" creative projects seemed distant, unimportant. The only thing that mattered here was StevieSnacks. 

As I sat in the hotel room that night it hit me.

Doors are starting to open. Opportunities are coming. Now is not the time to get distracted. Now is not the time to lose focus. Now is not the time to further divide my attention. Now is the time to double down on StevieSnacks.

StevieSnacks IS the business. Not just a product of my business.

For five years I've poured my heart into making a large collection of guitar lessons. Those lessons have drawn an audience of players around the world.  That work is starting to open doors. If I lose my focus I will miss what's coming next.

Suddenly I realized how much stuff I was doing that I didn't have to do. The numbness of the past few months wore off and I began to feel the pain of inefficiency again. The dream of building a team came alive again. The dream of building a real company came back. It was time to turn StevieSnacks into a well-oiled machine that would allow me to teach my heart out.

I was finally back to where I was a year ago when Dan Benjamin made me cry.