Ep 6 – Shawn Freeman – TWT Group

The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast

The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Thank you so much for being a part of this. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Shawn Freeman is a prominent entrepreneur here in Calgary. He started the TWT Group, which provides it services to businesses. Sounds like you’ve grown very quickly over a relatively short period of time. Then you’ve also been published in major publications such as Forbes, Inc, Hub.

Shawn Freeman: HuffPost.

Jonathan Hafichuk: HuffPost.

Shawn Freeman: Entrepreneur.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Entrepreneur. It’s pretty impressive. You speak at some big events as well.

Shawn Freeman: Yes. Medium size conferences. I’ve done a few talks for that for sure.

Jonathan Hafichuk: He’s been a guest on a lot of podcasts locally. It sounds like you can’t have a Calgary podcast without having you on it.

Shawn Freeman: It seems like it.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. Tell us a little bit about what the TWT Group does and what they provide in terms of services.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah, so our goal at TWT Group is just to give business owners the freedom to worry about their company and not have to worry about their technology. We take all that off their plate, make it really easy.

Jonathan Hafichuk: You formerly worked at a large company in the oil and gas sector, had a quite high paying job it sounded like.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. I was doing pretty good for my age there definitely. When I started, there was about a hundred people. Four years later I left, it was about 1600 people. There was a ton of growth. I learned a lot from that time there, which was great. I got to the point where I was just like, hey, I want more, I need more. Yeah, that was TWT and kind of made the jump. This was sort of before the downturn came, so it was kind of what’s the worst that could happen? I get another job and I’m glad it worked out because there was no more jobs around a year or two later.

Jonathan Hafichuk: What made you decide to take the leap and start TWT?

Shawn Freeman: I guess I was motivated to look at something like TWT when I just started to realize… I was pretty young at the time, so I wasn’t getting the promotions and whatnot, but I was super eager and ambitious to kind of get something more that I was passionate about. I kind of had this gap that I was like, I need to do something else. Then people started asking me like, “Hey, my friend’s got a business. Can you help them with IT?” A couple of those came up and I was like, okay, sure, I’ll just do it in my free time. It kind of snowballed and then kind of got to the point where I was like, I got to either take this seriously or not. I chose to. I had a few friends that were like, you know, you’re only going to get a good chance like that once in a lifetime, so you might as well just keep going with it and see where it goes, see where it takes you.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you have any entrepreneurial background before that?

Shawn Freeman: Aside from shoveling snow as a kid, no, not really. I went to school. I went to U of C, took computer science. I was pretty techie so I could do the stuff that we do, but I guess I also had the people skills. I think the combination of both really kind of set me up for success.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. The business more or less started organically with people looking to hire you. What did that next step kind of look like into actually focusing on it as a business and scaling it?

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. I mean, that first leap going from employee to your own business and trying to make ends meet and pay your bills and all that and make your clients happy and make sure they don’t fire you, right? That’s one step. Then the next step is kind of like, okay, well, now it’s to the point where I need to hire somebody and that was a pretty tough step for me. It probably took me about two and a half years to get there. It was just like I didn’t really know when I should hire somebody. I didn’t really know what made sense. I really kind of struggled with that one and then just kind of finally got to the point where I was like too busy. I couldn’t handle it. It was like a no brainer, which is probably a bit further than I should have taken it, but you live in and you learn.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. Was it difficult to find the right people in the beginning?

Shawn Freeman: Honestly, no. I actually like… I went back through my past because the company has a… Because it grew so much, I worked with so many vendors, so many different outsource partners, like IT people and and whatnot. I kind of just looked at people I knew and I was like, oh hey, that person would be great. I’ll ask them, “Hey, you looking to make a change?” It turned out that the first person was. He was like, “Yeah, let’s try it out.” Even a few people now that work with me are from my past relationships.

Jonathan Hafichuk: When you were starting out, did you have doubts that you were going to be successful on your own? I guess the recession hit probably shortly after you started out. Did that affect you?

Shawn Freeman: Yeah, the recession probably hit around the time I was hiring somebody. Because I wasn’t in oil and gas, we didn’t have a lot of oil and gas clients. I sort of really didn’t know what was going on and how it was affecting me until like clients started coming and saying, “Hey, we’re not doing so well. Could you like cut us a break?” We did. We gave people, 30-40% discounts. We’re like, “We’re in this for the long run. We’re going to help you however we can, and we’ll come out the other side way ahead, right?” All those clients that we did that for are still with us and they’re still around, more importantly, providing jobs to their employees and also ours as well. I never really was at the point where I was like, “Oh, I’m not going to not going to make it. We’re going to fail.”

I think because of the recession I sort of looked at it as like my only option was success. If we weren’t making enough money to cover the bills, I’d be out there working the sales myself and following up, chasing people and doing the hard work, right?

Jonathan Hafichuk: Right around that point, how much were you working?

Shawn Freeman: Good question. It’s funny. When I had my last real job as an employee, I probably did the nine to five, worked a little bit overtime maybe, but I wasn’t really too dedicated. But then when you have your own thing it’s like, well, I work 12 hours and it feels like six, right? I guess I probably was working 12-16 hour days and not realizing it. I loved it. It didn’t really bother me. It still today doesn’t bother me. I’ll be in the office at 8:00 and I’ll still be working at 8:00, right? It’s just a different perspective on work, right? What is work? I know myself. I’m passionate about it, so it doesn’t feel like work itself. It feels like, oh, I’m working for myself, working what I love to do.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you think some people become entrepreneurs with an expectation of having to work a lot less than they realize?

Shawn Freeman: I hope not. Yeah, it’s funny. Funny you mentioned that. The other day I was just talking to somebody online and they’re like, “Oh, I’m having a really bad day. I’m trying to get started.” I was like, “Well, what’s your business?” They’re like, “Oh, XYZ.” I was like, “Well, how long have you been around?” He’s like, “Well, eight months.” I’m like, “Oh yeah. I mean, you don’t get a day off when you’re eight months old.” It’s funny. My management strategy for like after I started hiring people was to actually go on vacation and I’d still do work while I was away. I could be in Mexico or something and I would be working, but I would be away so I’d have to delegate all the stuff that required a body to be around.

I actually told people kind of jokingly, not really, but I said, “I’ll go away and I’ll make sure that nothing dies or falls apart with me gone and then I know I’m doing a good job of delegating.” It’s kind of a different way to look at it.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Initial delegation is like a really good experience. Things really change.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. It’s big trust for sure. Yeah.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Right around the time when you’re hiring that first person, how did you differentiate your time from working kind of in the business, doing the work for the clients versus building the systems and developments and getting clients and like all the work on the business kind of thing?

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. Honestly, the early days we’re worried about just getting… Generally when you go into a company and you’re going to help them with IT, they’re not bringing you in because everything’s perfect.They’re bringing you in because things don’t work. My focus would be really heavily to go in and say, “Okay, what do we need to get you to like maintenance mode? So everything works. There’s no fires. If you call me, it’s something minor. Not a big deal.” I really focused on that. Then the other thing I did from the get-go is I really focused on recurring revenue. I think any good healthy business sees recurring revenue. Any clients I brought on, it would be some sort of retainer. It’s totally changed today. Today we’re doing it entirely different than we did then.

But I think just focusing on that monthly recurring revenue, whether the person had 20 issues or two issues, they’d pay us the same and we’re incentivized to make sure things work, which is what they want us to do, right? I think those two things really helped those I guess processes you could call them. But the detailed processes about how we did things never really started to evolve until maybe the last three years I’d say. After that kind of inflection point, we’re like, “Hey, well, we’ve got like half a dozen people that we needed to like put some standards in place so everybody knows what we’re doing. We’re all on the same page.”

Jonathan Hafichuk: How many people do you have now?

Shawn Freeman: We’re 14 people right now.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Okay, awesome. It sounds exciting.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. We were on the Growth 500 lists from Maclean’s recently. I didn’t realize it until they told me, but our five year growth was 804%.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow.

Shawn Freeman: Around that time, like that five year mark was when we started hiring people. There’s people that just started around then and they’re still with us today.

Jonathan Hafichuk: How long has it been though?

Shawn Freeman: It’s been seven years, October 11th, a couple days ago.

Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s exciting. What do you attribute that growth to?

Shawn Freeman: Honestly, I think starting in a downturn is a good thing because you’re lean and you don’t have a lot of overhead and fixed costs. We didn’t have to really trim anything or cut expenses. They were already like minimal. I think just doing a good job. I think we’ve always focused on providing the best service we can and that’s been at like our expense sometimes. Sometimes we’ll be like, we know this is right for you, you’ve told us you can’t afford it for another two years or it’s not in the budget, we’re just going to do it because number one, it’s right. It’ll make your life better, your IT better, and it’ll make our life better because you won’t have problems. That’s our job is to make sure that you don’t have tech problems at a very low level, right?

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. Well, it sounds like the business is quite profitable despite that. What effect has that had on… I imagine it greatly increased customer satisfaction, but it hasn’t been come at too high of a cost for you I assume then?

Shawn Freeman: Honestly, I think you need to balance profitability with customer happiness obviously. Technology is one of those things that you hire the cheap guy once and then you realize and you run into issues. You either have server issues or you get Ransomwared or your data’s not backed up properly all these things can happen, right? You do that once and then you learn that, okay, well, I need to maybe invest in this. Then once you do that, it’s the operational level, right? You go from just the basics, like the cheap basics to, okay, we’re getting actually what we’re paying for and we’re doing a good job. Now you can actually say, okay, well, here’s my technology. What can I do now? What can I do? How can I use this to grow my business, compete against others, right?

A lot of businesses are starting to kind of realize that and say, okay, well, if I don’t do this, people are going to kick our butts. We’re going to be out of business because they’re lowering their costs. They’re replacing people with systems, which is good and bad, right? I mean, people are losing jobs because they’re putting a piece of software in, but at the end of the day, it’s a more stable company.

Jonathan Hafichuk: In the last seven years, what’s been the biggest struggle for you? What’s kept you up at night?

Shawn Freeman: The biggest struggle for me I guess has just been you always question yourself. It’s like that you don’t know what you don’t know, right? I’m always looking out for blind spots. That’s maybe one thing that keeps me up at night because I always see like as a CEO, it’s my job to take care of my people and then they’ll take care of the clients, right? I guess it’s my job to make sure that my staff are safe and they feel significant. If I can do that, then I have no worries. Over the last seven years I haven’t had too many sleepless nights. Honestly, I think if you believe in your heart that you’re doing the right thing, that’s really the best you can do. We’ve built a solid foundation of values of the company. They’re freedom, innovation, do what’s right and relationships.

Anything we do is built on those four things, whether that’s keeping a client or letting a client go or deciding to work in a geographical area or even an industry. Generally we work with companies that are 10 and above, but we’ll work with the odd like coffee shop that we know and we love the owner. It’s really about that relationship, right I’ve always said if I can’t go for a beer with my clients, then we should probably rethink the client.

Jonathan Hafichuk: No [inaudible 00:15:00] clients?

Shawn Freeman: Not that I know of. I wouldn’t be against that. It’s just the overall idea of can you sit down with them and get along with them and are you more than just a vendor, right?

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, that makes sense. Has there been times when you’ve either hired or taken on clients that were contradictory to those values where you learned from it?

Shawn Freeman: 100% and that’s why our values are there now. We haven’t always had those. I’d say we probably put them in about three years ago and it’s been a game changer for the company. We fired clients because they didn’t meet the values. If a client is being rude or obnoxious to one of my staff, like I’ve got my staff’s back. I’m not going to go to the client and be like, “I’ll take care of it. It’s okay,” and then just shoot my staff in the foot. It’s me and the staff. We’re together. We want to work with good people. If somebody is not happy with what we’re doing, then we’re going to let them go when they’re going to be happier somewhere else, right? Then everybody wins, right? We’re not here to make people’s lives difficult.

That’s happened once or twice, but we’ve gotten really good at pre-qualifying clients and kind of pre-building that relationship before they even sign up with us, right? A lot of them sign up with us because they’re like, well, you know, I need IT and I know you and you’re awesome. Cool. Let’s go. That’s kind of how we work.

Jonathan Hafichuk: What have you found is the most effective method for you for obtaining new clients?

Shawn Freeman: It’s funny. I can look at all my clients and kind of connect the dots. It’s like one of those things where they’ve all referred us or they’ve known somebody we know already. There’s always been a relationship. We’ll get like an email form off our website saying, “Hey, I’d like a quote for IT services.” We’ll dig into it and we’ll question them like, how’d you find out about us? It’s usually like somebody we know or a client or something like that. It’s funny that we never really run into clients that we don’t know somebody. It’s really word of mouth and networking Calgary. Calgary is a big small city.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. I know you’re still doing some marketing as well. Like your ads chase me around Facebook all the time.

Shawn Freeman: You googled the wrong thing.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Was there a bit of a bell curve when you were growing? Did it exponentially increase at some point and were there struggles with that? Did you have to like go on a hiring frenzy?

Shawn Freeman: That’s actually right now, honestly. When you first start, the first three to four years, you’re like nobody knows about you. You’re trying to get your name out there and tell people what you do. TWT Group, that doesn’t tell you anything what we do, right? Now I think a lot of people know who we are, they know what we do. The word is out there. We do things differently, right? As cliche as that is and everybody’s saying it, I think we actually do. I know that everyone says they focus on the relationship, but do they really, or is it just something they’re saying? I think we’re just at that critical mass now where it’s all coming together. Calgary’s coming back. That’s the other thing too with the downturn that definitely put a hamper on our growth, but I think the worst year of the downturn we grew 44%.

That’s great because we’re creating jobs when other people were not able to get people jobs. We did our part to try to help everybody through it, right? It’s not just good for us. It’s good for everybody.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Has there been sacrifices you’ve had to make in your personal life for the success of your business?

Shawn Freeman: For sure, yeah. There’s been no lack of vacation obviously, but I think your person or your family. I probably can spend more time with my niece and nephews and stuff like that. I’m probably 20 pounds heavier than I was before I started the company. You get to work and you have a couple of glasses of wine at night and it adds up, right? I think it’s really just… Somebody said there’s five things and you can only focus on three at a time. I think it’s totally true and I think you need to reevaluate that often. Even if you did a quarterly meeting with yourself and say, okay, well, what’s my focus for the next quarter? Is it work? Is it personal? Is it myself? Is it my community? You pick three of those and then you work at those and then maybe next quarter it’s different. It’s just about balance really.

Jonathan Hafichuk: You’ve had some articles posted in major publications. How did you go about doing that? You mentioned in another podcast that you had some tricks kind of associated with that. That’s like a fairly sizable feat. How did you go about that?

Shawn Freeman: I mean, a little guy from Calgary. Canada doesn’t usually get a lot of press regardless. There’s a few networking groups out there. Once your company hit a certain size, like usually a million dollars is kind of the threshold, there’s one called YEC, another called EO. There’s a few others out there, but those are the two that I’m in. YEC has actually been really good. It’s US-focused. I’d say like 98% of the members are US-based, which is actually interesting because I’ve actually met people from that group in the US and they’ve been valuable resources. I had a phone call with one guy and changed a lot of the stuff I was doing. I look back and I’m like, well, that made a big difference. The membership fee is not that much and they…

Because they’re in the US and they’ve got a lot of members, they have the reach that can get you connected with who you need to be connected with. Working with PR companies is great too. A lot of times it’s like anybody can get in those magazines. I’m not special, right? It’s just a lot of people aren’t willing to invest the time, the money, the relationship building to do it. If you do those three things, you just have to ask the right questions to the right people and you’ll get out there.

Jonathan Hafichuk: I have a friend who’s in EO and he’s spoken very highly of it. He said he’s made some really amazing connections and the resources they provide are really good. What have you found in terms of networking or building relationships to be really valuable? Because I know a lot of the networking events that I’ve gone to, it seems like a lot of the people there aren’t people I would really want to build long-term relationships with. But every once in a while like the cab meet up and stuff like that, it’s been really great. A lot of really awesome people. How do you pick who you want to build relationships with and how do you find the right places to find the right people?

Shawn Freeman: I think it’s a lot of just keep trying. If you go to one meetup and you’re like, “That was a waste of time,” don’t go again. Just try a bunch, see which ones you really connect with, like the events themselves, and then go to them. I think you need to meet people and like dig deeper in those and take them offline. Go and be like, “Hey, let’s grab a coffee and like see how we can help each other.” I think it’s also like the reciprocity, right? A lot of times if I meet somebody and I’m like, hey, that might be a really good contact or they would tell me about something and I can help like I’ll help with nothing expected. It just comes around, right? I think the groups that have those cut offs, like a million dollars revenue, they’re really great obviously. The problem is that people don’t want to spend the membership fee.

Every year I look at it and I’m like, yeah and that paid for itself. Every year. If it doesn’t, I’m not putting the work in. I think that’s the thing too is you need to take responsibility for the result. Because if you’re not showing up whether it’s at networking events or at your like monthly forum meetings, YEC is all online. If I’m not engaging online with those people, I’m not going to get anything out of it. If I’m not creating the content and posting it and seeing who picks it up, I’m not going to get that published in HuffPost, right? You can’t just go network and assume it’s not any work after. You got to put the work in. Not only that, I don’t know where I read it, but it’s kind of the idea where if you think you’re going to need a relationship in three to five years, find the person and start building it today.

Because in three to five years it’s not going to be about, oh, I need some investment. It’s going to be about, hey, I’m really working on this and we’re trying to scale and we need some investment. They’d be like, “Yeah, how much?” They’ll know you and that’s how you make things happen. You got to like foreshadow. You got to think ahead. I mean, the other thing too is just give it a shot. I’ve met some pretty cool people just by sending them an email and saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in your city. Can we grab a coffee?” For instance, Bruce Croxon in Toronto. I literally emailed him and said, “Hey, can we grab a coffee?” We did. His EA got back to me. You just work with her and say, “Yeah, I’ll make it work. I’m here this week and let me know what works.” Sometimes you got to go out of your way, but it’s pretty cool.

I mean, that’s sort of the thing you got to keep in mind. You don’t want to have the relationship today and need them next week. Build it before you need it.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, for sure.

Shawn Freeman: I think that’s more than just relationships, right? That’s processes. That’s everything you do. You need to kind of like… Is the team I have today the one I’m going to need in six months, or am I going to need to hire? You always have to kind of build it before you need it, whether it’s in your head or real life.

Jonathan Hafichuk: If you could go back and do the seven years again and build the business again, what’s one thing you would do differently?

Shawn Freeman: I think I put my values in place earlier. I’d come up with the company values. I think they were always there. The problem with not having them written down is you don’t have something to refer to. If I was going through tough times with a client and I have to make a decision, now I would just go to my values and say like, are all my values met or there’s one or two of them not being met by working with this client? It’ll would make the decision very easy, right? Whereas back in the day, you take your time and you make all these excuses, oh, we’ll figure it out, we’ll fix it. Once we get that fixed, it’ll be better to deal with. It doesn’t usually work out that way, but if you had your values and you go, okay, well, they’re not enabling this value, so done and move on.

I think the quicker you make decisions in business, the better. You can focus your efforts somewhere else that’s more profitable and funner, right? It makes you happier.

Jonathan Hafichuk: How do you suggest business owners go about developing that initial core set of values?

Shawn Freeman: Ah, good question. I had help. Michelle Berg from Elevated HR helped me put mine together. I believe her trick was ask yourself. If you weren’t working, like say you didn’t run your company, you are retired, money wasn’t an issue, would you still live by them? Freedom. Yes, if I was retired, I would still everything I could to enable my freedom. Innovation, relationships, do what’s right. I’d still be a good person, right? Then the other trick she said is if somebody wasn’t following them, would you fire them? If you can’t afford to get some help doing them, look inwards and say, “Okay, well, how do I live my life? What are my values?” Throw down 30 words because like me, you’ll probably have 30, and then pair them down to three to four. I think we got down to like five and they were like… Well, those are the same thing.

You just pair them down and then it’s easy to remember not just for you, but for your team too, and then you can come up with them pretty easy. I actually did them myself. I didn’t involve my team. Normally people would be like, that’s kind of weird. I was like, no, because I built this company around my values. All the HR policies, all the benefits policies we have, unlimited vacation, like that’s all built around my values, not theirs. They’re living them already. They just don’t know it. When I like said, “Here’s our values,” they’re like, “Well, what about this one?” I’m like, it’s the same as that one. I was like, I already had it, but they… Then they woke me up and said it’s the same as that or it’s a subset of freedom. Yeah, we came up with it and then they’re like, yeah, we like them. I think they all memorize them. I’m pretty sure.

Jonathan Hafichuk: How do you manage to give your employees unlimited vacation?

Shawn Freeman: Pretty easy actually. I treat them like adults. That’s the simple answer. They know what they have to do. They know their job. They love their job. They’re passionate. If they didn’t, I would know it and they wouldn’t be an employee anymore, or I would change something that was wrong in the company. I find they actually use their vacation differently rather than save their two or three weeks that they get and wrap it around long weekends and then everyone’s gone. They’ll go skiing on a Wednesday randomly in January. The hill’s empty and they enjoy it more. They just use their vacation differently.

Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s awesome. I’m sure they really appreciate that. Where do you see yourself in 10 years, whether that’s with the TWT Group and the company and their goals or your own personal goals if those are separate or if those are the same?

Shawn Freeman: 100%. I’ve actually spent the last couple of years figuring this out. Thank you for asking me now and not two years ago. My vision for the company is in seven years I’m probably not going to be day to day. I’m going to be a director. I’ve already got my plan to bring my current team in and build them up to be managers of the company. We actually had a strategy meeting two weeks ago. We all went down to Palm Springs. That was a lot of fun. I took the whole team. That was actually a goal of ours that we set two years ago. We made it happen. I told the team, I was like, I’m good leaving the company as it is right now. Right now that’s where I need it for my goals. The growth that we’re going to go from here on, that’s for my staff. It’s to create positions for them to step up and be managers and take the company over from me in seven years.

I’ll probably still be a majority shareholder, but I won’t be a single shareholder like I am today. That’s sort of my 10 year plan. Then after that, well, I mean, I’m always trying to give back, but I think I’ll shift my focus from the company operationally to giving back to my employees and building something for them. Then also community, right? Focus more community wise. We’re a big support already, but I think that will become my full-time job. Somebody they’re like, “Oh, I retired five years ago and I’m busier than ever.” I’m pretty sure I’m going to have that problem. It’ll just be chasing other passions that I find.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. It’s always kind of the dream of a lot of business owners to kind of be able to step back. It sounds like you’re on the right track.

Shawn Freeman: That’s the problem is people confuse business owner with you made yourself a job, right? They are two separate things. First step is to hire other people and then second step is to get out of their way, right? In between there is a lot of crap you got to figure out.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. I know a lot of business owners really struggle with having both more than full-time job as well as running a business and they seem to get themselves into that rut there. That can be a difficult thing for people to get out of.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. I think generally when I see those issues, it’s a lack of recurring revenue usually. If your business model doesn’t have recurring revenue, then figure out like how do I productize this so it does have recurring revenue, or if I’m teaching courses, how do I scale that? It’s just kind of stepping back. People know what they’re good at so they try to sell that, but then how do you look at it from a business model perspective and say, okay, well, I’m just making this whole job versus something I could scale and hire other people to do. It’s funny. Groups like EO and YEC give you more perspective around that. I’ve got a meeting on Tuesday with somebody that’s maybe joining our forum and it’s like their monthly net income is like triple what we do in a year. Her team is 20, like six more people. I’m like, holy shit.

Jonathan Hafichuk: What industry?

Shawn Freeman: Like heavy metals and stuff like that. What can I learn from you? Your perspective changes. You’re like, there’s businesses that are like that and I didn’t start one? Shame on me, right? It’s just figuring out like how do you take your business that’s just creating you an income you could just earn getting a job at some place and how do you scale that up? Sometimes it’s hard, right? It’s hard to say, well, that’s not going to scale. If you’re wondering, reach out to mentors. Ask people like, hey, I want to run this idea by somebody that has experience doing this. Does anybody know that person. In Calgary at least, anytime I’ve asked that question, there’s always an answer. There’s always a, yeah, I know somebody. There’s like four people usually. There’s always somebody.

Generally, that’s the thing I find in Calgary is like all the successful people out there, people that are starting like WestJet or like some oil company. They’ll sit down with you and they’ll help you. That’s the cool thing about Calgary, especially if you’re genuinely. You’re like, “Hey, I need a mentor. I want help with this.” It’s funny. People will give you their time for free.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. I’ve only been here for about a year and a half doing business, but it’s been awesome. Andy’s been extremely supportive over the last few months. It really seems like there’s a lot of people who you’d think would be very difficult to reach who are very reachable and are willing to hang out and chat or give you feedback on things. Yeah, it’s been awesome.

Shawn Freeman: Yeah. I think if people read you as being genuine and not just trying to like sell them another essential oils or something, they’re going to help you. They’ll spend their time where there’ll be like, hey, I can’t right now, but book it with my receptionist or get it in my calendar and I’d be glad to, right? I don’t think that’s just Calgary. I think it might be a Canadian thing, but then even my experience from being in that YEC group, which is US-based, mostly like they’ll bend over. I had a two hour call for free and it probably added a few points on my bottom line. I think it’s just people like they see you trying and you’re not… Then the other thing too is if you take their advice, then they like feel like they had some part in that.

For me, anytime I’ve given advice and somebody who’s run with it and done good things, I’m like, oh, I feel good about that, right? It’s just a human nature thing.

Jonathan Hafichuk: As an entrepreneur in the last seven years, what is the most valuable thing that you’ve learned in your journey?

Shawn Freeman: I’d say the most valuable thing I’ve learned in my journey is that the idea that you’re going to get to a point where it’s just easy and you don’t have any problems, it’s a total fallacy I think once you realize that. You might get rid of the problems you have today, but you’re going to have new ones. As your business grows, as things evolve, as your market changes, all your problems are going to change. But I think like people get caught up with that. It’s like, well, I just wanted this to be easy, right? Entrepreneurship is not easy, otherwise everybody would be doing it. I mean, a lot of people are, but a lot of people aren’t. If everyone was doing it, it would really be hard because you’d have way more competition.

But anyways, once you realize that and your problems are just going to keep evolving, then you can start to have fun and you can really look at your business as something that you can be like, oh, I want to experiment with that. Put it in your business. See how it works. If it’s good, scale it. If it’s not, throw it out. You can just really start to play around. Then you can get to the point like I was telling you earlier, I’m at the point where my business could remain where it is for the next 5-10 years and I’m good. I could just sell it off and whatever. I’m done. I can retire. I could go do whatever I want. But then you get to the point where you can be like, this is something bigger than me. Now I got another problem. That’s my other problem. Now I’ve got to figure out how do I transition it to my employees? How do I make sure that they’re successful and enable them.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, makes sense. That’s really cool. I know as I’ve been in business, my problems are constantly, constantly changing. It’s always just adapting as fast as possible.

Shawn Freeman: For sure, yeah. The quicker you can, the better. The quicker you can like let one thing go and move onto the next better thing, great. You can’t just like… Say you spend 5,000 bucks on something and it’s not what you needed, well, it’s a sunk costs and you can’t make decisions on other stuff based on that. You got to like kind of separate the two and make the best decision. You can’t just be like, well, I just spent five grand on that. I’m going to stop doing marketing because that didn’t work. Well, no, that’s not going to help you grow. The best decision would be to pivot and figure out, okay, well, what would work, right?

Jonathan Hafichuk: Where can people go to find out more about you and what you do?

Shawn Freeman: Yeah, so my website is shawnfreeman.ca or twtgroup.ca on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn as well. I gave up Twitter. I was like that sucks.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, it does.

Shawn Freeman: You can find me on those three platforms. Yeah, just google me.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Cool. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I think you’ve provided some really valuable insights, and I look forward to hopefully hanging out more in the future.

Shawn Freeman: Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Great. Our first sponsor is Symbol Syndication, which is a video production company that I started. We do video production and online marketing for businesses of all sizes, ranging from solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies.

Our second sponsor is Gravity Cafe. They have been gracious enough to give us their space. The coffee is awesome. They have live music three nights a week. The beer is great. It’s an awesome place to come hang out.

Another sponsor of The Ambition Project is Business Link. Business Link is Alberta’s entrepreneurial hub. They’re a nonprofit organization that helps people navigate the steps towards starting their own businesses. Just because you’re in business for yourself doesn’t mean you’re in business by yourself. Business Link’s team of in house startup experts are there to support you all along the way.

Our next sponsor is the Better Business Bureau. Your BBB helps businesses build visibility, credibility, savings, leads and community through BBB accreditation while funding free marketplace services with more than a million instances of service to consumers every year. Visit bbb.org/Calgary to learn more today.

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