credit: The Travelling Bum

I am cheap.  Really cheap.
I run a paperless office not for efficiency, but because I can’t stand to cough up $39 for a pair of HP 1610 Printer Cartridges every month, and a $110 Western Digital Backup Drive from Costco every other year.
An aspiring minimalist, I pursued that lifestyle not for its zen like impact, but because I couldn’t splash down for storage.
But there are certain things that I HAPPILY purchase.  Here’s my list of top 12 business expenses.
Me & Johnny B … Soderbergh & Benicio

1) TheFilmSchool’s Screenwriting Bootcamp – $2,500

2007 was the second worst year of my life.  Recently divorced.  Recent ill-equipped full-time single-dad.  Recently laid-off. Full-time loser.

After picking up a landscaping job on Craigslist for $12/hour, I became friends with  the homeowner.  She patiently listened to my depressed stories and insisted I apply for TheFilmSchool. I responded with the friendliest, “Yah, right lady”. Six-months later my boss Debra Lowell overheard me recount the story, and called me into a closed-door meeting.

“Nate, you should go.”

“But what about my job? It’s three-weeks long, I only get two-weeks of vacation per year, and I’ve already burned up a week of that. And there’s no way my ex-wife will take Anna an extra week this summer.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

“But it’s three grand!  There’s no way I can swing that.”

“Yes you can,” she responded flippantly [as you may guess, Debra is one of my sales mentors]

So through a $500 scholarship from TFS, a flexible boss, a shockingly accommodating ex-wife and a financial miracle in the form of my first commission check as a tech recruiter, I attended.

Other than the obvious benefits of getting my ass-kicked by some ridiculously amazing writers, including the legendary screenwriter of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and SYBIL, Stewart Stern, those three-weeks gave me a huge boost in confidence in my writing and proved to me outright that, 1) I didn’t want to be a director or a screenwriter, 2) That I loved and had ample skill as a storyteller, and 3) there may be a place in the world for a guy who unapologetically writes 88 word sentences like this one.

On top of that, all of my best friends in Seattle either were alumni in our small 25-person class, or somehow connected to them through 2nd or 3rd-level connections. That picture above was from a little alumni get-together I threw at my apartment, which pictures the late Johnny B who became my best friend and Small Biz Triage’s first employee the next year.

In 2010, TFS became an accidental marketing client, when Johnny and I stocked marketing postcards for them at a bunch of pre-paid Starbucks displays. Our loudly voiced disapproval with that highly inefficient tactic, eventually led them to hire us.  TheFilmSchool is now my biggest client.

2) BufferApp – $10 / month

If any of you have read any of my how-to article on social media, then you have certainly read about my obsession with this little sharing / scheduling tool.  Their free version will suffice for all but super-users like me.  (Don’t tell them, but I’d likely pay double for this thing, it literally saves me that much time).

They also make the Digg Digg bar, that little floating bar of marketing awesomeness to the left of this post.

3) ManageFlitter – $79 / month

This deceptively simple Twitter tool saves me countless hours on that silly but oh-so-important platform.  My plan is a bit more expensive since I manage a ton of accounts, but the starter Budgie account is only $12/month.

Here’s my how-to series on Twitter that leverages ManageFlitter and Buffer extensively.

4) Basecamp – $50 / month
I manage my life with this thing.  Literally.  Business, bills, trips to the swimming pool with my kid – all loaded onto this site that can only be described as somewhere halfway between a project management tool (minus the messy Gantt charts) and a to-do list on steroids.
My use of this platform with clients has actually earned me additional business.  Apparently small biz owners are willing to pay me to “be organized” for them.
Just spoke with my client, Chazzzam (a rad sign-shop in Bellingham), and they just picked up their own subscription stating that they need to get more organized like me.

5) Lisa Loop’s Creative Coaching – a few hundred a month

I can’t disclose the actual amount – maybe I’m getting a killer deal that should remain a super-duper-secret 😉

Lisa is someone I approached to help me elevate my copywriting.  Apparently my writing was fine, but there was some other stuff I could do to grow my business and happiness level at the same time. Anyone that knows me well, is downright shocked to hear that I have a coach, let alone pay for it. Yet, I can say without hesitation that Lisa’s coaching was the missing ingredient I needed to transition from master survivalist to an unapologetic thrivist.

Oh, and her writing is *really* good, and keeps me humble … most of the time.

6) “My First Business Expense” – RocketTheme Membership

This list would not be complete without this little $75 gem.  I no longer sell websites, or tweak Joomla Templates, but I do sometimes miss those early days when I began to fully understand the true meaning of business. via photopin cc

7) Gasoline – Currently $58.75 of fuel in my ’92 Accord

Someone asked me recently why I don’t stress about business cards (or the lack thereof).  Good question, so after a minute talking I had my eureka moment. People hire me because I show up.

Even at $5 a gallon during the summer, that fuel keeps me moving and keeps me sane.  My best brainstorming happens on the road.  If so inclined, you can meet my car, Shaniqua, in this trailer I shot while on a 15K mile road trip I took last summer.

8) Seth in the Flesh – a few thousand a month

Seth interviewed for an internship I was managing at TheFilmSchool last year.  While racking-and-stacking the interviewees, I told the Office Manager – hell no to that Seth kid.  Chris replied, “I can use him.”

Big mistake.  Seth quickly became a bit of a social media rock star with that client. I like to credit my epic training program with his transformation, but I’m not that egotistical …… or am I?.

When I asked him what he wanted to do next during our internship wrap-up, he said, “more of that marketing stuff.”

Within a month, Seth in the Flesh (a human focused community outreach business) was born. He excels at that special blend of consistency, geekery and humanity required to be a superstar community manager.  Behind the scenes he manages all of my client’s recurring community outreach efforts.

9) The Dundon’s – undisclosed

Drew Dundon

Ahhhh, my favorite Irishmen. Two unapologetically rough brothers hailing from some in-pronounceable village in Ireland, Drew and John Dundon have saved my arse more times than I care to share here. A true master of digital marketing and search engine optimization, Drew (who lives in Seattle) is single-handedly responsible for saving my business when he strong-armed me into using WordPress on a project.  And he rescued my soul when he insisted that the less time I spent on the laptop, and more time in front of clients, the more money I would make.  He was right.

John Dundon

His brother John (who lives in a hut in Ireland equipped with broadband – I think) is a wicked smart programmer who regularly bails me out when I get myself in trouble with PHP, CSS, etc…  I have yet to hand this guy a project he can’t burn through with ease.

Their collective skill and stubborness and insistence on quality and overall crankiness is strange blend but stunningly effective.  Don’t try to hire them directly though – they are known to make their clients cry. 😉

10) Anything You Want by Derek Sivers – eBook $6.99

The celebrated founder of CDBaby’s short book on business and life is required reading for all of my steady freelancers.  Derek’s somewhat unconventional approach to business and the lifestyle it brings is refreshing.

Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. – Derek Sivers

11) Pilot G2 Gel Pens & a Yellow Legal Pad – $6.00
AKA My iPad.
All of my successful business ideas, projects and campaigns started on a yellow legal pad filled with  illegible notes written with a black .7mm Pilot G-2 gel pen.  Everyone once in awhile I mix it up a a bit and use a blue pen.  Dangerous, I know.

12) Sprint Bill / Comcast Bill – $150/month

Tied.  Without my phone and my internet connection, I would quite literally be out of business. I joke with people sometimes that phone, internet and gas in the car, I could survive indefinitely.  It certainly isn’t cheap, but considering that it is my largest expense in my proudly low-overhead business, I have no issues happily paying full price.

Honorable Mentions: Freshbooks ($19.95 / month) … a slick little invoicing tool with built-in time tracking, that has made collecting payment easy, while shaving 100’s of hours per year in accounting overhead.  Dropbox‘s 100GB plan at $9.95 / month would have easily made the list if wasn’t for papa google rolling out Google Drive this year.

What would be on your list?  Drop them in the comments below.

2 Responses

  1. I like your honesty.
    Smart business expenses- some which I have as well- and some that I want!
    But, wait, do I trust a man that claims he runs a “paperless office” and then spends $6.00 a month on what, Paper?!
    ps. thanks for being there for me! you rock.