I am not going to lie about this: 2016 was a tough year for the Offbeat Empire. 2015 wasn’t especially easy (medical emergency that took me out of commission for a month at the start of the year, search engine traffic started wobbling a bit mid-year, and then we closed out the year with me so bereft over my marriage that I could barely function!), and 2016 just kept the hits coming. I was basically MIA for the first two months as I traveled with the Lovesick Expo, and then was definitely still dealing with what I’ll call PDSD (post-divorce syndrome disorder) for months after that. Algorithmic shifts from both Pinterest and Facebook affected our social media traffic. Our efforts to shore up our SEO weren’t immediately panning out. All of us on staff took turns freaking out at different points during the year. As the founder and boss, I fretted constantly about sustainability and morale and just… everything. If 2015 felt rough, 2016 felt bad.
At the start of 2017, my bookkeeper sent me my 2016 annual financial report and she was like, “Great work: revenue is steady and thanks to how much you cut back your expenses, profits were up by a fourth.”
…Wait, what?! I balance my books almost daily, so it’s not like I wasn’t watching my revenue closely but bla bla not seeing forest for the trees, etc etc… I’d been in a panic all year long, and instead of the whole thing falling down, it turns out that we’re solid, sustainable, and kicking ass. I… oh! Well, then! I guess after a decade, I’m better at this whole “managing a business through ups and downs” thing than I thought?
I owe it all to my contractors
Part of how I’ve been able to run my company so efficiently is that my contract team is lean and powerful. My contract staff of four (my two editors Catherine and Megan, my web dev Kelly, and my sales manager Tiffany) are fucking amazing. Not only have they adapted to every bump the Empire (and its founder) has been through these past couple years, but everyone’s doing, like, better than ever?!
What the fuck!
Because of my contractors, the toughest two years of the Offbeat Empire’s decade of existence (and honestly, the toughest two years of my fucking life) have actually been totally ok. Bootstrapping a business is terrifying, since the only money to spend is the money that’s coming in. In a decade of being in business, I’ve never taken out a loan or accepted venture capital. My investments have been my own time, and the willingness of my contractors to stretch themselves. Who knew a bootstrapped tech company could be so sustainable?!
My contract staff is my greatest expense and my company’s greatest asset. As a manager, I worry constantly about making sure everyone feels both supported (checks always on time, timely guidance from me when needed, quick resolution on issues as they arise) but also liberated (everyone’s off-site and contract — that means I don’t manage when, where, or how they do their work). I don’t want to micromanage but I also don’t want to be so hands-off that I’m publisher in absentia (and honestly, with my own personal shit these past couple years, sometimes I am).
Contractor longevity & corporate culture
I measure my success as a manager by the longevity of my contracts. My contractors have all been with me for YEARS — the longest is at 8 years (hi, Megan!), the shortest is at 2+ (Hi, Tiff!).
Some of this longevity is that the work is relatively fun, everyone works from home on their own schedules, and while I can’t pay anyone what they’re worth (including myself), I always pay on time. I like to think I’m also a helpful and generous manager who pushes enough for folks to grow, but isn’t so tough love that anyone feels pushed around or frustrated. (Well, I mean — we all get frustrated with our work. Me too.)
I think, however, a big part of why my contractors stick around is because we’ve ALL worked together to create a working environment that works so well for ALL of us. I mean, yeah I’m the boss and the one who writes the checks, but we’ve collaborated to make sure that even though we don’t physically work together, we all like the digital space that we work together in… the Offbeat Empire’s corporate culture is definitely a collaboration.
How would I summarize what that culture is? Silly, dirty, chatty — but totally focused, efficient, and clear. Or as my sales manager Tiffany said, it’s all dick jokes and hard work.
So let’s wave our eggplant emojis in the air and celebrate — THANK YOU to my beloved contractors and THANK YOU to my beloved readers. MWAH.