#20: Managing Multiple 7&8-Figure Companies with Stephen Halasnik

by | Dec 21, 2020 | Podcast

Guest Intro

Stephen Halasnik is a serial entrepreneur who has built 6 companies over the last 25 years, each of them which does 7 or 8 figures per year in revenue.

These companies range from financial services to building rentals, and he spends most of his time working to help provide timely and crucial loans to small businesses around the USA.

In this episode, you will learn more about how to build up a business and delegate most if not all your responsibilities so you have the free time to build a second business, a third, and more if you so desire.

What You Learn

  • Why he developed multiple businesses
  • Why bootstrapping to profit IS still a viable option
  • How to offset taxes by re-investing in new companies
  • How to start multiple companies without burning out
  • Why family is so important

Episode Links

Transcript

Introduction (0:00)
Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome back to another episode of the “We Live to Build Podcast.”
Our guest today is Stephen Halasnik, a serial entrepreneur who has built 6 companies over the last 25 years, each of them which does 7 or 8 figures per year in revenue. These companies range from financial services to building rentals, and he spends most of his time working to help provide timely and crucial loans to small businesses around the USA.

When I spoke with Stephen during our intro call, I got the feeling that he was a man of dedication who knew how to manage his time well and trust his partners, which are both extremely important skills for any serious entrepreneur to hone.

In this episode you’ll learn more about how to build up a business and delegate most, if not, all your responsibilities, so you have the free time to build a second business, a third, and more if you so desire.

Today, we honor his ability to create and automate processes that work well, so let’s give Stephen a warm welcome.

Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome to the “We Live to Build.” My name is Sean Weisbrot and I’m an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in Asia for over twelve years. Join us every week to fast track your personal growth, so you can meet the ever-increasing demands of the company or companies you are passionately building.

Time waits for no one, so let’s get started now.
Stephen’s Background (1:52)
Sean Weisbrot:
Thanks for joining us today, Stephen. I know it’s early for you over in the states. You were working for Xerox, a well-regarded company that’s known for printing. When did you realize that Xerox wasn’t ready for the future, and what made you think you could do it better by starting Digiprint, your first company?

Stephen Halasnik:
I mean the division I worked in Xerox was one of the most progressive companies in the United States. I mean they had digital printing, laser printing, I mean they were doing some things with digital printing which was totally far above what all the other companies were doing, but it wasn’t a matter of they weren’t being progressive, it was a matter of like I left when I was 30 years old. I had been there for eight and a half years. When you’re in corporate America which by the way, I loved working for Xerox, and I might even continue to work for Xerox. They treated me great, you know, at the age of 17, the vision that I had was, I wanted to start my own company.

I mean keep in mind, so when I was 17, the two biggest people in business were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, you know, and they really had just started their companies, and so, for people in the 80s in the United States, you know, we’re known as the money generation, right? And we kind of thought about money a lot. That was kind of like what you aspired to.

But anyway, at the age of 17, I wanted to start my own company, like, I thought I would at once I graduated from college. What I thought I would do is go work for a big company first, make my mistakes on their time, learn, grow, and then start my own company.

And then, I got into Xerox, and I really loved my work. I was one of their top sales reps in the country. I was promoted five times over eight years, and then two things happened, or three happens. One of them was a recession hit in the United States, and I wasn’t getting promoted again because the older people in the company were getting the jobs that I would have gotten. Number two is, I had reached a level where it was time for me to switch to management versus sales, and I knew I wasn’t really great at politics, and I wasn’t that type of person. And number three, my wife and I were going to get married, and she knew my dream of wanting my own business which I had continued to work on and develop those skills while even when I was working at Xerox. She said, “Listen, we’re gonna get married now, you know, I know you’re unhappy at Xerox because of you’re not getting a promotion.”

You know, all I did was talk about what type of businesses I would start, and she’s like, maybe now is the time for you to do it. My wife gave me permission to start it and she had a good job. So, what I did with Xerox, I worked for a year and a half for Xerox, half a day without them knowing it, and then the other half a day I started my company, so that’s how it kind of all began.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, it’s kind of funny that you, that your wife told you to go for it at the time that you’re getting married. My experience in Asia is that normally, if you don’t have a business by the time you’re married, that your wife will try to constrain you and force you into a traditional nine to five, so that you can have a stable job to support her and whatever children you may have and her family and all that. So, I love that your wife was so supportive, and obviously, if she hadn’t been, you probably wouldn’t be where you are right now, so that’s pretty awesome.

Stephen Halasnik:
Keep in mind that I think it all depends on the person. I tend to be a go-getter and I think my wife recognizes that, and you know. So, I think she kind of had a lot of trust in me and so I always had a plan. I mean, I didn’t just leave Xerox, I worked there for a year and a half while my business was growing, you know. So, you know, I had a plan.
Start of Digiprint (5:44)
Sean Weisbrot:
So, what was the hardest thing about getting started with Digiprint?

Stephen Halasnik:
I want to give you an idea of how intent I was on starting my own business, that it was always something I thought about and worked toward. So, between the ages of, for example, between the ages of 26 to 30, I went back, and I took something called Cases from the Harvard Business School at a local college. And I took that same course for four years, because every week you would learn a different business case. And the whole idea why I was taking that class was to become better at being a business owner.

Now, the thing that was crazy was I spent these, you know, all these years, I wanted to be a business owner and the number one thing I didn’t come up with or didn’t work on was like a great business idea, so it was like, you know. Then my wife and I decided to go ahead and move forward, starting my business and I kind of didn’t have an idea for a business I would start, which is really the kind of screwed up part, what a huge mistake.

So, what I did was, my mentor at the time said, you know, start something you know. And so, I knew a lot about digital printing already, and so, you know, that’s the first business I kind of went into.

Sean Weisbrot:
Okay, so how did that end up turning out for you? How was the first year?

Stephen Halasnik:
So, what happened was the first year I did good, you know, I made $60,000, and again this is 25 years ago in my first year. So, what happened was I needed to test the market, and this is something that I’ve done in every single one of my, almost every single one of my businesses. Being able to test an idea to see if it’s going to work before, you know, invest a lot of money and time into it. And you know, it’s one of the biggest mistakes a lot of young business owners make. They have this great idea and then they don’t test to see if, well, does it work, are people going to spend money on it?

So, what happened was the equipment for digital printing at the time cost a million dollars each, and I’ve never let money stop me from anything. And so, what I did was, I said, okay let me test the market to make sure that this digital printing, which is kind of digital custom printing on demand and customized printing. It was just like this new type of technology, and I said let me test it to make sure where, you know, I can build a market here. And so, what I did was I went out to meet with other companies that already had the equipment, and I contracted with them to do the printing and do the work. And I went out and I got the business, and then I would bring it to them, and my customers didn’t know it was being printed somewhere else, so they didn’t care either.

And so, that allowed me to learn the market, to see if there was a market there and to build cash flow which is always really important. And so, that’s what I did for the first year and a half. So, how did it go? Well, I was about two years, I think, Digiprint started and again this is kind of a rinky dink, you know, compared to the businesses I have now, you know. It was my first business, it was kind of, you know, not very good. You know, it ended up in my second year, I made $80,000, but the most important thing was it taught me that the people who were in the business that had the equipment were not making any money, that the market wasn’t there, and that the printing industry is a terrible business to be in.

There’s just not a lot of margin in it if you’re doing big jobs, and anybody can have like this little printing press in their garage and can print, and also digital printing and custom printing. There weren’t many people doing it, so I did it for two years, believe it or not, I ended up selling the business for like $50,000 and then I moved on to my next gig after that.

Sean Weisbrot:
I have to say, that’s quite smart for you to go to other companies and have them do the work, because you never had to lay out any money for inventory including those expensive machines. I think someone else might have had the same idea as you but tried to put together a million dollars to buy the machine, and they’re probably still kicking themselves 25 years later.

Stephen Halasnik:
Yeah, I saw a lot of those people who bought those machines do bad, so yeah, you know, it was.

The other thing that I’ve learned over the 25 years is that it really takes a business owner three to five years, I’d say closer to three to really know what they’re doing, you know, with their business. And it takes 10 years to learn how to be a really a professional business owner, you know, learning all the nuances of being a business owner. You know, you don’t want to take all that money and waste it in the beginning. <10:44 clip end>
Pivoting (10:45)
Stephen Halasnik:
There’s this term that I really believe in, something called “pivoting.” And pivoting is where you kind of get in the business that you’re in, doing one thing, and then you kind of learn about something or learn about the business, learning about your customers, learn about your product, and you pivot in another direction after you’ve learned some things. And I think in the first couple years of any business, that you’re pivoting.

Sean Weisbrot:
I definitely learned about that when the virus came. Because the first two years, we were focused on one product, and we were getting close to actually being able to launch. We’d already started talking to investors, and then the virus hit in, you know, January, February time. So, by March, we knew that there was going to be no money for our product, and what we saw was an opportunity to pivot into remote work because the core architecture we had for our software was already based on chat and it was enterprise level.

So, we had the core aspect that you need for any kind of, you know, enterprise software, and then we just had to figure out what to do with it and eventually came up with remote work. And I think we have a much better company now, and development is much smoother, and it’s been an interesting eight months, but it was necessary to do that because we, I feel like we’re much more like a real company now.

Stephen Halasnik:
I think it’s on a different level than what you’re talking about. I mean, you know, every business has its own course. One of the things I’ve learned when you have a business, I know we’re all thinking about growing, growing, growing that business, but one of the things that you should think about is what will happen in my business if a recession hits. Because what has been proven true is that every 10 years, there is a recession that happens, and it’s major, a major recession that happens.

A lot of times, companies fail during recessions, but maybe what we should be doing is all thinking about what would happen to my business. What would I do during a recession because a recession is going to happen, you know? I don’t know if that would have helped you in your business at all.

Sean Weisbrot:
In this particular business, the virus was actually good for us because investors are going crazy for what they’re calling the “future of work” or “work from home.” We looked at the market, and we pivoted into what we knew investors were hungry for, and what companies are desperate for.

Stephen Halasnik:
None of the businesses I’ve ever built, which are between 6 and 25 million in yearly sales. None of them have involved any type of angel funding or any type of VC money, it’s all been growth, through existing cash flow or you’re leveraging that cash flow to get lines of credit from banks. So, but, it’s interesting when you talk to young entrepreneurs nowadays, because all they ever think about is investors, investors, investors. And so, you know, respectfully, when you just, when I asked you that question, you focused on the idea of: “Well my investors wanted us because of this, this, and this.” Whereas, when you ask me that question, if you asked me that question, how did I pivot or whatever. I’m focusing on the market I was in, the product, the service I’m focusing on that.

And so, you know, I went in at one point in my career, I spent two years looking at angel funding deals, in other words, I was going to look at providing funding to companies, and so, I kind of know a little bit about the angel funding market. You know a lot of times, what I saw was, you know, business owners who focus all their time on getting investments and not focusing their time on the market that they’re going to go after, or that their execution strategy, it’s just a different way of thinking, I think.

What to focus on? (14:37)
Sean Weisbrot:
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. A lot of people I talk to that are looking for investment they say they take, you know, sometimes up to six months of just focusing on investors, and that takes away from their time to deal with, you know, the market and the product.

Stephen Halasnik:
The idea will determine if it needs investor funds to compete, or if it just needs, if you just need to build a business that’s, you know, reinvesting the cash flow, or you know self-funded so to speak. You know, I think the there’s just a lot of people out there who just think that investing, getting investors, is the number one way to build a business. And I would tell you, like, I have quite a number of friends who got investor money, you know. They built their companies and were successful at it, and they didn’t make as much money as I did, building a small company that kind of lasts a long period of time. So anyway, I mean, I think the idea comes first. I think you come up with the idea, if you think it’s a good idea, then you decide, “okay, yeah I’m gonna need to go the angel funding route for it to work,” or “no, I can just build a solid small business.”

Sean Weisbrot:
I think the problem for a lot of people that want to be entrepreneurs today is that they’re all young. A lot of the people I know that are building their first company are in their early 20s, and if they’ve gone to college, chances are they’ve got debt and they’re living with their parents. You know, they’ve got student loan debt.

So as much as they would love to be able to bootstrap a business to profit, they just don’t have the means to do it. And I think outside investment is really the only way that they feel they’re capable of doing that business at all.

Stephen Halasnik:
I get it, but I think that there’s other ways of doing it. Like what I did, look, I worked for a company full time during the day and then, you know, the other half, I did something else, you know. So anyway, everybody has his own path, I get it.

The next companies (16:35)
Sean Weisbrot:
Your next company, I think was expertseeker.com, am I right?

Stephen Halasnik:
Yes.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, you started this company in the early days of the dot-com era?

Stephen Halasnik:
Yes.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, what inspired you to start this company, and what was your decision-making process for how to start it, and how to grow it?

Stephen Halasnik:
What are the skill sets I’ve always had? There’s two. One of them is I recognize opportunities very well, and number two is I am really good at taking an idea, and having it come to fruition, to implement it, I’m really good at that. I’m not afraid of moving forward, and I’m really good at like, if there’s a brick wall, I’m good at knocking the brick wall down to get through the other side.

Sometimes with not the most great of political skills as I mentioned in my days at Xerox. Okay, so, I knew DigiPrint wasn’t for me, right? It wasn’t gonna work. I always read a lot, you know, I kind of knew what was kind of going out in the world, you know. The big thing at the time was a year 2000 bug which was, you know, they needed to fix the code, and then there was other things. I was reading about called ERP enterprise resource planning, and a lot of companies were implementing big, huge software packages.

And so, what happened was, I went to work for my sister as an independent sales rep. She had started her own business, and she was bringing people in from overseas into the United States on H1B visas to work in technology, and so what I would do is help her kind of place those people into companies. And while I was doing that for seven months, you know, combined that with what I was reading, I saw that there was going to be this huge pent-up demand for expert level consultants, people who were like the best at what they did in technology. And then, at the same time all those cases I studied, cases from the Harvard Business School, one of the number one most recurring theme that you saw was that big companies move from variable cost to fixed costs, and that’s how they’re able to get their pricing down and really beat the competition when you get bigger.

That’s how you’re able to knock out all the little companies that are out there, but it also is a big problem for them. So, you know, it’s really, really hard to cut fixed costs. And so, one of the things I thought of at a young age was, you know, what if I build a company, I want to build a company with a lot of variable costs, so that way, when the recessions hit or if I want to pivot, I can easily cut back or make a change. And so, I liked the staffing business because I was like, “wow,” so if there’s a problem I can, and I know this is going to sound terrible, but the biggest expense in a staffing company is people, in other words, your sales people, your recruiters, your administrative staff, and it allows you to ride the wave of a growing economy and cut back when there’s a recession.

And I thought, wow, there’s going to be this big demand for really high-end technology people, plus it’s got a lot of interesting variable costs. So, and the third thing was, I think I can borrow money against my future receivables to be able to fund it. And so, I started Expert Seeker, and it went from 1 million to 3 million to 5 million to 6 million in five years, and the profits were fantastic. They were really, really good, and I was also, you know, learning how to be a business owner, and boy, that was an adventure for me.

There’s a lot that you learned in the early years of being a business owner, you know. You make a lot of mistakes. My mistakes are usually managerial which is usually my weakest skill. So, Expert Seeker just had this several years of really great profits and at the same time, I’ll tell you a story. This is this one day my accountant calls me up, and he goes I need to come in and see you. And anybody who’s ever, I don’t know, been through this knows that it’s never good when your accountant says something like that.

So, he comes into my office, and he goes, Steve, he goes, you have to pay $280,000 in taxes this year. Luckily, I had the money, but I knew I had a tax problem going forward because we were making really good money. And so, at that point what I did was I bought a beautiful dilapidated 10,000 square foot office building and I fixed it up, so you know that ended up being one of the six businesses I started. Not only did we save money on taxes by doing that, we ended up using two floors for our own company and then we rented out three floors to other businesses. And that building which I still have today has allowed me to borrow against it for a line of credit for my other businesses as well as to produce cash flow. Today it’s known as passive cash flow, right? But it allowed me to produce cash flow that would help me during times when things were maybe not going so well.

The way I got into Expert Seeker, I kind of just paying attention to the market. But it was also important too when I got out of that business. Because what happened was, the 2001 recession hit, which was the 9/11 recession. I’ve now named these recessions, actually from my building which are 40 miles outside of New York. It’s built on a hill, and I can see the skyline of New York, but I actually saw the smoke in the horizon because it was a crystal-clear day and when those towers fell on the TV and I could see again the smoke in the horizon, I knew that my business Expert Seeker was over.

So, over the next couple of months, I got rid of staff and then over the next three to four or five years, I kind of ran Expert Seeker into the ground because I knew that the year 2000 bug was over with, I knew that work was now going overseas, and I knew that people weren’t spending on ERP because major corporations were going into a major recession and they’re cutting back big time.

And so, I then moved on to my next company while Expert Seeker was running, but I didn’t spend any time in Expert Seeker, I just let people run that business. I spent actually six months trying to figure out what next business I was going to go into, and that ended up being healthcareseeker.com.

Sean Weisbrot:
Explain to everyone why you used money to buy a building because maybe they don’t understand the purposes of that.

Stephen Halasnik:
There’s a few reasons. One, you get depreciation on the building, so, you know, you’re able to appreciate it, and you get, you can write it off over 25 years in the United States, and there’s a tax benefit for that. Number two is I was able to take the cash from, I was earning from Expert Seeker, and to pay for the $750,000 and renovations that require the building.

So, you know, I actually didn’t never, I didn’t have a mortgage on the building, I just paid, I paid cash for everything. And that I was on a cash basis versus an accrual basis, so that allowed me to reduce my tax burden. So, you know, there are a variety of tax benefits and then of course, going forward I didn’t have to pay rent any anymore. I was paying rent to myself in essence, and that’s another advantage.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, you were having money from Expert Seeker pay rent to you, and you are essentially then able to take profit from the business as income through the other business and then keep it as really income for yourself?

Stephen Halasnik
Yeah, that’s part of it, but that’s, I think the bigger part was, you know, the ability for us to put our cash, the cash that we were making into another business, that was tax benefit.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, were you also putting cash into Health Seeker from Expert Seeker?

Stephen Halasnik:
Expert Seeker and Digiprint, they were bootstrapped, it’s like I started, and I kept reinvesting and it were, you know, it’s rough building a business that way. So, with Healthcare Seeker, which was what we did was we placed registered nurses on long-term temporary assignments throughout the United States into hospitals.

Expert Seeker, I got in on the bottom and I rode the wave up of demand. With the Health Care Seeker, I actually got in at the possibly the worst possible time. I got in at the height of the market and then the market started going down, and then a major, and then a recession hit. And I got in Healthcare Seeker because I thought it was recession-proof. It was, I thought being in healthcare, that it was going to be recession-proof and I was really wrong.

So, to answer your question when I got into Healthcare Seeker, I invested money quicker. I hired people quicker, I hired a director of public relations and lead generation, I hired two recruiters, you know. I put more money into advertising, so, you know, within the first six months I spent $350,000 and that was unlike the businesses I had done before, and even the business I had done after. And then we got caught with the recession going down and I was ready to pull the plug on Healthcare Seeker.

It took me three years before the company actually started to generate a profit. Certainly, the lesson you learn here is start small, you know, just keep testing the market. What ended up happening with Healthcare Seeker is we then caught a wave back up and we grew that company to 7 million and we became, we were on the INC 500 fastest growing list of companies in the United States, and we grew at the 7 million. And then guess what happens next?

Sean Weisbrot:
The housing bubble?

Stephen Halasnik:
Yeah, the housing bubble came. We were on track to do 11 million, we were going from 7 million to 11 million then a recession hit. So, I thought, all right recessions typically last 18 to 24 months, and I said, you know, let’s ride this out. Because I think when this recession is over with, our business will do good again and our competition, there’ll be a lot less competition. Well, what ended up happening was the recession in the United States ended in 24 months, but the recession in my industry lasted seven years.

What I learned is that recessions in your industry can last a lot longer than the global or local recessions. And then, you know, there’s other lessons I learned. I never had a business partner up to this point, I now have a business partner and who had started his own businesses and very successful one and sold it, and both he and I were so wary of what to do during recessions, that at this point that when we started our other companies, we built companies that were cyclical, that were counter-cyclical to one another.

So, whereas one would do well during a recession, another one might not. So, we had a plan for what we would do during a recession which has come to fruition right now in the 2020 pandemic recession.

Sean Weisbrot:
If you look at the stock market, especially hedge funds, a lot of hedge funds will look at the market and they’ll make an investment in something they think will go up and make an investment in something they think that’ll go down so that they can hedge their bets against the other one, in case, you know, they lose money some, in one of them. So, you took this idea and put it into the creation of companies, I think that’s really cool.

Stephen Halasnik:
It seems to work. I mean, one of the things you learn, I learned it’s like, you know, when you talk about hedge funds, I mean, they have billions and billions of dollars. They have a lot of what I’ll say chess pieces, right. You know, they have a whole chess piece, they have a whole chess board, and they’re always thinking strategic, you know.

When you’re a small business, okay, you have one chess piece. You don’t have a lot of options; you don’t have a lot of moves. It’s a real problem for a recession where like a small business, yeah, they can cut back on their costs really, really quickly but once your revenue really dies down, you don’t have a lot more moves to make. At least in our case, you know we had some moves.

Now, keep in mind. Now, looking back at it, my building is a hedge against a recession, then I have a financing company, financing solutions you know. And then, I also have a funeral funding business. When one is down, you know, right now financing solutions is down, but my funeral funding business is up, and my building is up. So, you know, it allows me to stay self-employed. It allows me to make still good money, and it’s been, you know, a good lesson, I think.

Business partners (29:45)
Sean Weisbrot:
How did you actually make the decision to take away some of your time from those other businesses, so that you could focus on starting the next one?

Stephen Halasnik:
One of the problems I didn’t like about Expert Seeker was I was always working in the business and not on the business. When it came to Healthcare Seeker, I wanted to work on the business not in the business, so, I hired an operations person very quickly.

So, very similar to what you’re doing, Sean, which I think is really, really smart, and, that is, if you can have either an employee or a partner, like, that can focus on the internal operations while you’re focusing on something else, I think that’s really the best way. In fact, you know, I have a business partner right now and he’s amazing. I’m so lucky I have, you know, that we work together, and he’s really good at the working on the inside where I’m really good at working on the outside. I’m really good at the marketing lead generation. In fact, you’ll never grow in size past like 3 million in yearly revenue if you don’t have somebody working on the inside while you’re working on the business.

Sean Weisbrot:
The first year, I spent mostly just learning how to be a CTO and a project manager, building the products, the wireframes, the documentation for how everything is going to look, and feel, and work, and what’s the navigation between all the screens, everything like that. Once I hired him, I felt like things were actually starting to move because I was putting so much energy on the product that I didn’t have the ability to think about anything else. And not only did he help me to be able to focus on other things, but he also found where I was sucking at what I was doing and created processes for me to follow so that I could do the product management better.

In the last six-seven months, from that point when we started looking at it until now, the development side has gone super efficient. Like I never imagined we would be this efficient, so, I totally agree. Trying to find someone that can help you do things better by allowing you to step away from them makes it so much easier to think about how you’re going to grow the business.

Stephen Halasnik:
You can also get there if you say, well I can’t afford operations direct, or, you know, I don’t want a partner, right, or I haven’t found someone who has the right skill set to be my partner. There’s other ways you can do it, too. You can hire a part-time assistant to get some things off your desk. One of the things I did early on was I took one of my top employees and I said, “okay in addition to your job, I’m going to groom you for the second position job, and now I want you to start managing all the staff.”

And she was so excited about it that I didn’t have to pay her anything extra, right. She ended up, by the way, doing really well with me. I mean, she not only worked for my one company, she came back to me, worked for me for two companies. And, you know, she became my operations manager at Healthcare Seeker which she did a great job with, and, you know, she ended up doing very well financially.

So, there’s other ways to skin a cat. I think the concept that you have to work on is you have to be working on your business at least some of the time instead of working in your business, you know. You shouldn’t be the one always going out getting investor funds, or you shouldn’t be the one always going out and talking to clients, and, you know, it should be a balance.

Sean Weisbrot:
Well, yeah, absolutely. You know, I plan to use some of the funding to hire, you know, customer service people, and salespeople, and business development people so that I can focus on more of the long-term vision and going back to the product, because for me, the product is my vision. And so, you know, kind of like Steve Jobs without being an asshole, I want to be very deep in the product for the life that, you know, for the lifetime that I’m part of this company. Because I know that what I want to do is really unique and it’s important for me to be a part of that.

Business during pandemic (33:54)
Sean Weisbrot:
How has the pandemic affected you so far? You said the funeral is doing well, what about the other businesses, because you have four.

Stephen Halasnik:
Yeah, so, they’re all doing well which is good. The only thing that happened with financing solutions is we did reach, you know, we laid off quite a number of people and we did it really early. You know, I sometimes worry that maybe people might say, “oh you know he’s heartless he can let people go so quickly.” It’s never easy, and we always give them a good package, usually, or give them a lot of notice. But you know, if the business doesn’t survive, it doesn’t help anybody. With financing solutions, we had learned from other competitors that during the last recession in 2008, they lost half their portfolio, so in other words, is they had a lot of losses during the last recession. But then, what happened was the industry came storming back and their portfolio went up 100%.

So, we were kind of thinking that that’s what would happen to us, but what happened in this recession for financing solutions was we didn’t lose any money. None of our clients stopped paying us, you know, within reason and we did really well. The only thing that has happened with us is people, companies had stopped using their line of credit, and so, our portfolio is down but we didn’t lose any money. They just haven’t been using their line of credit.
With Elite, Elite just continues to go. Elite Funeral Funding, so what we do is, we buy life insurance policies when a loved one passes away so that so that their family can have a funeral, because usually, you have to wait 60 days to get paid your life insurance money which the family usually uses for the funeral, which is funerals cost on average about ten thousand dollars. So, we give that money up front and then we collect the remaining money from the insurance company.

That company has done really, really, really well and we have people running it for us. I have two other partners in that business, I didn’t mention that. So, my business partner and I own 60% of the business and our partners who are the managing partners who run it, own 40% of that business. And it’s been a great business for us because we don’t really have to work in it at all. We really just provide the financing, and we provide the advice on to the people running it on how to run a business.

And then the building, of course, the building’s done really well through the recession. People would say, “well, hasn’t everybody worked from home, doesn’t everybody work from home?” Well the building I have has a lot of separate offices, like single offices, so, a lot of people who didn’t want to work out of their home were looking for office space to, you know, stay away from the kids, or you know stay focused. So, the building has done really well. You know, again, we cut all our expenses for financing solutions super early, and that really gave us a lot of time to kind of ride this whole thing out. And we think that as the recession progresses, people are going to come back to needing a line of credit and our two biggest competitors in the United States went out of business already. So, you know, we kind of think that we’re going to do well.
Follow up with Stephen (37:23)
Sean Weisbrot:
I’m glad that all of your businesses are going well. What have you learned recently, and how do you plan to implement it?

Stephen Halasnik:
Where I spend the majority of my time right now is lead generation. So, what I mean by that is marketing, how to get prospects to come to us, so you know, what I’m always learning is new potential channels on how to get more clients to us, that’s where I spend all my time. So, you know, things such as SEO, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, direct mail, advertising, you know. I’m always learning something new in that regards.

And so, I want to answer your question more directly. When the recession started in March, I said from my experience, “okay, what’s the best use of my time right now?” “How can I use this recession to get our company better?” And our number one best lead generator is search engine optimization, natural searches. And so, what I did was I’ve always had a company that manages that for us, and what I decided to do was to learn SEO from a technical standpoint myself. So, right now, I spend a huge amount of my time just trying to make our SEO strategy, our SEO implementation better so that we get more and more leads, not only now but going forward.

So, everything I’m learning right now has to do about the technical end of SEO. And now, what I’m doing is after so, whatever, since March, five months or more than that, what seven months, what I’m doing now is taking all the things that I learned and delegating it down to other people so that it starts to free up my time again. Because now, I was working in the business to learn something, and now I want to start getting out to work on the business again.

Sean Weisbrot:
That’s a really good skill to have right now for sure. I know because of the podcast, I got really interested in learning about, you know, mailchimp and newsletters, and funnels, and you know how to write great emails that people want to open, and that’s been really interesting, because for the longest time I was letting my team look at these things, and now I have my own opinions and my own skills that I can add value to what they’re doing as we prepare our strategy over the next few months to execute, as we launch and bring people on. So, yeah, it’s interesting we’ve kind of both spent this time learning vast amount of skills that are extremely important for building the business.

Stephen Halasnik:
Well, it’s the number one biggest skill that I think drives a business. I think it’s number one biggest skill, lead generation marketing, it’s the number one most overlooked skill. If you have a great product or a great service and no one knows about you, then you don’t have a business.

And I don’t believe that hiring a salesperson is a marketing strategy, and word of mouth about your company is not a very good marketing strategy. You have to have a variety of channels from anything from social media to direct mail, to email campaigns, to SEO/SEM. You know, you have to have something that works or a variety of things that works, or you’re never going to grow your business past any sizable level.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, the last question that I normally ask people is, what is the most important piece of advice you could share with everyone? Would you say that’s the most important thing or is there something even more important.

Stephen Halasnik:
No, I mean definitely that’s my theme, you know, where I say lead generation and marketing is what drives a company, but, I mean, from an overall business owner standpoint, I would just tell you being an entrepreneur, it is a marathon, it’s not a race. And in a marathon, you can’t just run the first mile as a sprint and then the second mile, you know, you coast. You have to be on the best at your game every day and you can’t work. You should not be working like killer hours, you know, you shouldn’t be working 70-80 hours a week because you will burn out and you’ll pay the price, not just in your business but also physically and mentally.

I mean I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’m always very cognizant of my energy level and my enthusiasm for the business, you know. That’s the number one thing I would say is manage your time and your energy wisely because it’s the number one biggest thing that’s going to affect your success.

Sean Weisbrot:
I love that you said that, because the motto that I have, and I say it in every podcast and every blog article that I write always is, “entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint,” those are the exact words.

Stephen Halasnik:
And, you know, on top of that is if you let it, your life will become only your business. And you know, you’re going to look back and you’ll you know, yeah, you might love that you built a business and I get it, but, you know, you’re going to be unhappy, so, have a balanced lifestyle. Family, health, friends, business, you know, have a healthy lifestyle.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, how can the audience find you online?

Stephen Halasnik:
Financingsolutionsnow.com is the website for financing solutions, so if your revenue is over $400,000 a year, you would qualify for a line of credit. You know, there’s other things we’re going to look at too, but in general $400,000. If you want to get a hold of me, you can always email me at [email protected] If you have a question, or if it’s something I can help you with, you know, feel free to contact me.

Sean Weisbrot:
Great! Well, thanks for your time. I really appreciate you, you know, sharing a lot of really great advice today, and it’s been fun.

Stephen Halasnik:
Sean, thanks for having me. It was fun.

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