Trying to Make the Ride Smoother

I’ve got a clunky self-employed engine in my life that I’ve done quite a bit of work lately. If you subscribe to my blog, you keep up with changes as they happen. This post opens the hood a bit and gives you a decent look at some changes I’ve made to help make the engine run a big nicer.

Gant Drive

So, what exactly CAN you do on this street?

You may know what I do for a living, but let me recap. I am president of Training Minds 501c3, a nonprofit whose purpose is to “train minds for action,” particularly through academic speech and debate. We run camps, tournaments, and create curriculum through its sister for-profit, Monument Publishing. I work together with coaches from across the country (one lives in France!) to pump out the best educational material we can possible pump out.

I’ve built up this business since 1998, but in 15 years I’ve worked my way into a very busy circle. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love what I do. But I have found myself wrapped up in business tasks that wear me down. Rather than building awesome camps and curriculum that “trains minds for action,” I was overwhelmed with customer service emails/phone calls, stuffing envelopes for order fulfillment, and jumping across the country to run camps.

Busy. For the past few years, I’ve been swamped. I have nothing against hard work, but I fear a lot of opportunities have gone to the wayside because of my “busyness.” Wendy and I have had a great run with, but it has been largely ignored for the past year. I love business training and flexing my MBA muscles, but I haven’t been able to expand services in that area. Even in the speech and debate business I do, I have had to let go of exciting development projects for no good reason other than time.

But like I said, change is in the air. Three changes are unfolding this summer, and I can already feel the momentum from a smooth-purring engine of my small business.

1. Customer Service

I have contracted a customer service agent, Diane. She attended one of my debate camps in California way back in 2005 and 2006. Now grown up and married, she and I crossed paths a couple summers ago when she brought her little brothers and sisters to debate camp in Estes Park. She has agreed to be the Training Minds / Monument Publishing customer service rep.

Diane’s help has more than paid for itself. Customers need to be taken care of, and when a company has a healthy customer service portal, satisfaction goes and up and inevitably sales go up, too.

This position is intended to move into more of an administrative assistant. I have considered getting a virtual assistant, but I have resisted. I believe my organization is much too intimate to hire someone who knows little about the community. I’m thankful to have Diane in my pit crew. She is someone who has benefited directly from Training Minds and has a vested interest in its success.

2. Order Fulfillment

Since 2001, my routine has been pretty much the same. I contracted with a local printer to print sourcebooks for homeschool speakers and debaters. The coaches and I get to work to pump out the content, and I take care of getting the sourcebooks orders out to families across the country. The work has been consistent and good.

But I reached a glass ceiling in product creation. I have had no time to expand my products and venture into other publishing opportunities. I have tons of offers to publish other works, but I found myself so busy that I didn’t have any time to take advantage of these opportunities.

This year I’m outsourcing all of my orders to the operation of my good friend, Andrew Pudewa, of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. After running a small debate camp at his facility in Locust Grove, OK, last October, Andrew and I have been working hard to develop a long-distance relationship for order fulfillment. Together with his team, we have figured out a process that both prints my resources and ships them out as orders come in.

3. East and West Coast Camps

I have developed two relationships with colleges on each cost: Regent University on the Atlantic and Point Loma Nazarene University on the Pacific. Training Minds is hosting back-to-back debate camps in July, and they both have extremely exciting agendas. But here’s one that excites me personally: I’m going to announce 2014 right afterward.

See, my process year-by-year has been to move my main camp around a bit. We’ve returned to some facilities, but I spend a good part of my year hustling and bustling trying to find a summer venue. This exhausted much of my time, and that time is now salvaged. I hope to have 2014 camp registration open soon after my 2013 camps end.

Do you see the consistency in all three of these adjustments to my engine? Freed up time. I hope to put more diligent effort into a speaking schedule, expanded resources, and more efficient communications in 2014. I’ll blog about these great things in the future.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Doug Tjaden

    Time is the most valuable commodity of a small business/ministry. It’s great to see you are taking steps to free some of it up. I’m finding the same thing on my end. It’s challenging and rewarding. You’ve motivated me to keep a tight leash on time “leakers.”