January 17, 2012

Create things: Business-maker Ryan Evans of Rand Media Group and Bitesize PR

Thanks to ace graphic designer and art director Stephanie Di Biase, I was introduced to Ryan Evans, who has a bona fide best practice: he reaches out to see people he’s interested to meet, in-person. Soon after receiving Ryan’s invite to get together, I met with him. We kickstarted our connection with a lot of shared interests, like collaborative workspaces, bootstrapping, CreativeMornings, and simple software (Ryan used my app Never Forget! for the iPhone). His business (one of them) of Bitesize PR was a particular topic of our conversation. Here Ryan shares his nifty idea in Bitesize PR, plus his experience and opinions on making a business:

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
What do you do for a living?

I am a former finance guy that stumbled around and wound up starting a couple of marketing service businesses called Rand Media Group and Bitesize PR.

Your companies Rand Media Group and its public-relations entity in Bitesize PR are businesses of and by a few. What is your statement about being a Small Business Founder and Owner?
The biggest thing that I can say is that I absolutely love what I do. Every day, I have the ability to come up with new ideas and build them. That is incredibly satisfying.

Bitesize PR piques a lot of small businesses’ interest. What is it 
and what makes it different than the large public-relations firms?
Everyone understands that media has changed dramatically. Now anyone can be a blogger, journalist radio show host, etc. The issue with most PR firms is that they are still doing business as if it was 1999. Not too long ago, the media landscape was much different. You had a fraction of the media outlets, each with a large audience. Because media outlets were scarce, businesses had to pay a lot of money to gain access to their audience. People generally associate paying for media as advertising, but paying a PR firm is just another way of paying for media. In order to get attention from the media, you had to break through to a few influential gatekeepers, and the primary way that has been done is through PR professionals. Because these relationships were so valuable, PR firms were able to charge huge monthly retainers.

Now, though, the value is shifting from paying for access to large media outlets to figuring out how to get access to more niche sources. For example, Design Feast is a much more valuable outlet for the design community than the Chicago Tribune is. Our mission at Bitesize PR is to connect interesting entrepreneurs with people who actually want to hear their story. I think that media-savvy entrepreneurs understand that our model gives them a much better shot at getting relevant media attention. Oh, and our starting price point is $89 a month. I think that gets businesses attention too :)

What is your daily work regiment in making
and keeping a business?

I’m not a person who does a daily routine forever. I’m not sure if I’m constantly trying to innovate, or if I simply can’t focus for an extended period of time. (I tell myself it’s the former.) But one thing that is incredibly important is defining and accomplishing one important thing a day. While I honestly haven’t been able to pull it off yet, I’d really like to extend this to one important thing a week, a quarter and a year. It doesn’t have to be big, but it should be important. One of the biggest challenges of a being an entrepreneur is that you have to keep a lot of people happy at once: employees, customers, contractors, investors, etc. In doing that, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes you happy or what you want to accomplish. So I think it’s important to just get one little thing in a day that helps you move in the direction you want to go.

How do you get the word out about your respective companies?
The great irony is that while Rand Media Group is a marketing company, most of our clients have come from customer referrals. This is sort of like seeing a “coming soon” homepage on a designer’s site. We’ve been so focused on executing our client’s marketing campaigns that we haven’t put together a comprehensive effort ourselves. This irony bothers me a bit, though, and we’re going to start doing a lot more this year.

With Bitesize PR, we get traffic from our blog, a pay-per-click campaign, Facebook, Twitter and media mentions, of course :) So far, things have been pretty simple. We took a pretty “lean” approach to promoting Bitesize PR. Call me crazy, but I prefer to prove out a business model (to the extent possible) before sinking a bunch of time and money into it. In order to prove out the concept, we wanted to see if we could get paying clients from a variety of sources and make sure that they are happy with the service. We’ve done that now. So now that we are confident in the model and we have some revenue, we’re in the process of improving the application and service, rolling out a new marketing site and beefing up our marketing efforts. This is the exciting part.

What are your recommendations for software/web-based tools
to use for collaboration and getting things done?

We have seven people on our team, and I only see one or two team members IRL about twice a month—so web-based collaboration is madly important. Most of the stuff we use is what most people are familiar with: Basecamp, Email (Gmail), Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, etc.

What tools do you use to work on your ideas
and make them grow?

To-dos in 37signals’ Basecamp

This is definitely my favorite part of owning a business. I spend a lot of time working through ideas on a whiteboard or a piece of paper. Sometimes I’ll use mind-mapping software, like MindMeister, but generally I find working through ideas on a computer too limiting and/or too slow. If the idea is ready to be implemented, I usually break it down into to-dos and add them to Basecamp (above). A vast majority of my ideas are half-baked, or I don’t have the time or resources to implement them immediately. For ideas that aren’t ready for launch, I usually throw them all on an “ideas” Backpack page and let them sit there for a bit. Then from time to time, I’ll go through that list and drag the better ones to the top. This process keeps me from pursuing a million different ideas at once or putting time into a bad idea. More often than not, I’ll look through the list and think “wow, that was stupid.” But when an idea withstands a few weeks, or a recurring theme emerges, that’s a clue that I might be on to something.

View from 8on7

The other thing I do when I feel like an idea has some promise is to float it out to some fellow entrepreneurs. I work in an incredible coworking space in Bucktown called 8on7 Patchworks with eight other companies. The folks in my space are super-sharp and painfully honest. I like to float ideas to them a lot, and they give me great feedback and sometimes make fun of me. Getting honest feedback from people who know what they are doing is invaluable.

Workspace of 8on7

How does time factor into your making of your work?
I have never felt the constraints of time like I do now. Not only am I busy building companies, I have three kids under 19 months. (Twins, not multiple mothers for those of you doing the math). So I can’t spend the time working like I used to. While this certainly creates a lot of pressure, scarcity of work time is really a blessing in disguise. I used to throw sheer hours at a problem or a challenge. Now I can’t do that. This forces me to either be a little bit smarter on how I approach my workload, or simply discard things that I don’t have time for. I should have been doing that from day one. Hard work is important, but when you build a business, your hours won’t scale to meet your ambitions.

What is the most rewarding part of making your work?
I like seeing my ideas become real.

Is there a part of your work that is particularly trying
and how do you deal with it?

I think one of my biggest challenges is my desire to keep everyone happy. That’s hard to do in business, and it get’s harder as you grow. I’m not sure if I will ever be OK with this, but I’ve gotten better. One thing that helps is to keep in mind the bigger vision. For example, you may not be able to spend as much time visiting clients as they would like, so that you can go to a class that teaches you how to service them better. If you have the vision of providing the most innovative service you can, making the decision to go to that class becomes a little easier. It’s hard to say no to people’s demands if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
Fostering creativity isn’t something I have honestly given a lot of thought to. I really should. I have a journal, but I use it more for solving problems or thinking through ideas. Great question.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
I’m fascinated by business, and it doesn’t matter what it is. I often daydream about what it would be like to own the local sandwich shop or start a space-tourism company. I’m inspired by people who run great businesses, regardless of the scale or industry.

You mentioned that you’re originally from Michigan.
Where exactly and what makes it special?

I grew up on a farm close to a small town call Dowagiac, it’s about 2-1/2 hours from Chicago. Like most rural areas, the pace of life is a lot slower. Growing up, I was ready to leave for the big city as soon as I could. When I go home now, I’ve come to appreciate some of the things that make the area special. The area has a lot of natural beauty with rolling hills wooded areas and lakes. The falls and winters are picturesque. There are also some charming attractions like a driven movie theater and Caruso’s Candy & Soda Shoppe. It’s nice to go home, but after a few days, I’m ready for the energy and ambition of the big city.

What are ways for people to learn about Rand Media Group
and Bitesize PR?

The best way to learn about us is to go to RandMediaGroup.com and BitesizePR.com. I’m also a big fan of Twitter—so please say howdy: @ryanevans

What is your advice to people who aspire to make something,
a business, product—anything?

One of my biggest fears is looking stupid. I think that’s one of the most common things that hold people back from creating things. No amount of knowledge or preparation will make that feeling go away. The only way to get over that is to actually do stuff. It doesn’t matter if you are successful the first time around. Just the process of creating things makes you more confident and able to take on more and more.

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All images courtesy of Ryan Evans.

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