You can be ambitious and still have a good work-life balance.
Rob is small business communications consultant based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada who hates business-speak and wants to see it eradicated from all business communications on- and offline. Holding a Journalism Diploma from Langara College in Vancouver and a Communications Degree from Athabasca University, he works with small businesses and individuals based all over the world, offering consulting services for business and personal branding alike. He is an avid loather of writing for algorithms and a champion of writing for humans.
Following a brief journalism career, which included being the first reporter on site at the infamous Vince Li Greyhound beheading incident, Rob left journalism and resurfaced in the small business sector, turning heads on Upwork by eschewing the usual vapid business speak and encouraging companies to start acting human and talking to their customers rather than talking to Google. Since leaving journalism, he’s built a successful career in the small business communications consulting field.
Outside of business, he enjoys nothing more than travelling, especially to new places. Whether that means boarding a plane and heading somewhere that requires a passport or hopping in the car and simply driving somewhere, Rob is always excited to go. Playing guitar and fiction writing are among his other passions.
Where did the idea for RobSwystun.com come from?
It was basically just the next logical and practical step in my career. I’ve been freelancing for several years using an online freelancing service doing small business marketing and communications, so I thought it would be logical to start my own small business communications consulting agency.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I get up at 7:30 am, start work at 8 and work until noon. Then I do some physio, eat and go for a quick walk around the block (if it’s nice out) and get back to work at around 1 pm. I work until 5 most days, but occasionally extend it to 6 if I have something I want to finish up. Then I usually head over to my girlfriend’s place and ignore my email for the rest of the evening. I keep my day productive by sticking to a regular schedule. I figure you need to be consistent to be productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For ideas pertaining to work, that’s fairly easy. I listen the client’s goals and formulate a plan to help them reach those goals. Regardless of whether the idea is something work related or personal, I find it helpful to free write about it. That’s when you sit down and start typing whatever thoughts come into your head about the idea, regardless of what they are. I comb through what I’ve written later and pick out the useful bits and expand on those. Once I’ve got the idea formulated like this, I can then take whatever action I need to make it a reality.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Although I hate to still refer to green energy as a trend, until it becomes the mainstream, it still essentially is. I love that there are so many small companies coming up with green energy solutions. The only way green energy is going to become the main source of energy in the world is if it becomes profitable and there is money to be made in it (an unfortunate reality of how our world works) and every new business that starts with an innovative idea for green energy shows that there is indeed money to be made in that sector.
I’m also excited about the direction that nuclear energy is taking. New types of nuclear power plants are being developed that are infinitely safer than the current ones we have. There’s still a long way to go to change people’s mind about nuclear energy, but these new types of plants will help with that.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
As counterintuitive as it sounds, I think refusing to work evenings and weekends makes me more productive. I value my personal time and when my day is over, it’s over. No emails are going to get me to work at 8 pm or work on a Saturday. Therefore, when I do return to work, I am refreshed and ready to go.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would warn my younger self about the dangers of credit cards and getting sucked into using them too much. I would explain that even though it seems great to be able to have things right now, it will actually end up costing you way more in the long run.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
A small business should not outsource its social media accounts to a third-party. I can’t fathom why any business would want to outsource the most direct line of communication they have with their customers to someone who isn’t involved in the company, yet I see it all the time. I live in Manitoba and I used to run social media accounts for companies in California and I could never understand why a company would want that. If you want your social media to be more than just shooting links out at people (and you definitely want it to be more than just that), then you absolutely need to run it in-house.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take weekends off and stop buying into the hype that working yourself to exhaustion means you’re some kind of entrepreneurial hero. It doesn’t. You can be ambitious and still have a good work-life balance. You may have to readjust your priorities, but it’s possible. Remember that money comes and goes and possessions come and go, but time only goes. It’s the one thing in life that you can never get more of, which makes it the most precious resource you have. Treat it as such.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I avoid what I call “business speak,” which in my line of work is pretty much all you hear. Not being willing to play the game that everyone else does in my industry has naturally set me apart. I don’t “leverage business solutions to facilitate positive outcomes,” I use human language to talk with a business’ potential customers and turn them into actual customers. People are drawn to this straightforward way of communicating because in business communications, it’s usually different from anything else they’ve encountered.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Mine is a personal failure. Doing basically all of my work online means the only interaction I have with many of my clients is via email or instant messaging. When I first started, if things turned sour with a client (thankfully something that only happened a couple of times as I was getting my footing), I would be quick to send a message that was decidedly less than professional (something that I am embarrassed to admit to now).
I later learned this is called the Online Disinhibition Effect, which is when online communication causes people to lose their inhibitions when communicating with other people because it doesn’t seem as real to us as in-person communication.
To make sure I always communicate with people in a professional manner, — even if they decide not to — I remember to treat every online interaction as if it were a face-to-face interaction. This has served me well in both my business and personal life.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A service that keeps track of new editions of textbooks as they come out, gathers any new information added to them, and tracks any changes to them so college students can avoid having to buy new, overpriced textbooks for their courses and just buy used ones that still have all the same information as the new editions. You could either charge a fee for using the service or make it free and monetize via ads.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
New glasses, because I needed new glasses.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Upwork helps me be productive because I can spend less time on networking and looking for clients and more time working for the clients I do have. Essentially, I use it as a resume. Upwork is full of potential clients already and I constantly get invitations to interview for projects. I can agree to the ones I find interesting and discard the ones I don’t.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. It presents a facet of history that you will almost never get to hear anywhere else and it’s a harsh lesson in how narratives get manipulated by the powerful at the expense of those they’ve conquered.
What is your favorite quote?
“Roger sharpened a stick at both ends.” -Sam in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
Out of context, this quote sounds slightly ominous, but in context, it’s one of the most chilling things you’ll ever read.
- Small businesses should never outsource their social media to a third-party
- Business speak should be avoided to make your business stand out.
- Despite the hype you’ve undoubtedly heard, you’re not a hero for overworking yourself, so take weekends off.
- Treat every online interaction like a face-to-face interaction to avoid the Online Disinhibition Effect, which can lead to unprofessionalism.
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