G-Sync: Velocity Research’s Dugan Karnazes on adding more money to freelancers' pockets

For folks who work in the freelance spaces of this world, the amount of material out there sharing just how one can run their business is more than plentiful.

But talk to any freelancer who is jamming at what they do and suddenly you see the cracks beginning to emerge as they weigh how or when is the best time to bring on new business/contracts. It is so much more than just adding more as capacity and time often are key factors in one’s growth (or not). 

The same can be said when you talk to any business firm who is experiencing growth but is not quite ready to commit to a full-time hire. 

This is where entrepreneur Dugan Karnazes enters our local scene with his startup Velocity Research that is changing our community’s freelancers and businesses for the better. 

Last week, Karnazes joined Rapid Growth and WGVU’s The Morning Show with Shelley Irwin to talk about his new business that is putting more money in freelancers’ pockets while helping solve our local business community’s problems of accessing our region's growing contract market. 

Listen to our interview here and then continue below with additional answers and insights about Velocity Research.

- Tommy Allen, Publisher 

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Tommy Allen: We talked earlier about inbound marketing. For the sake of those who may not understand this technique, how do you define it as it relates to how Velocity Research operates and navigates growth?

Dugan Karnazes: Inbound marketing is a methodology designed to draw customers in instead of actively pushing services on potential new leads. We make it clear what we do and who’s involved, and then just listen to what our clients need. 

If we see an excellent fit for our services to fill a need that is already being expressed, then we offer help. We keep an ear to the ground for our clients and lookout for ways to help them. Sometimes that means pointing them towards grant money available to them; other times it’s connecting them to a company besides ours if we don’t have a good fit. 

The unifying theme to our business development strategy is to be as helpful as we can and to establish Velocity as a trusted resource and the best place to start for any new project. Even if a project doesn't stay with us, we want companies to benefit from talking to us first. That’s just good business, and it’s not complicated.

TA: Speaking of growth and with the understanding that you quit your full-time gig approximately 17 months after you started Velocity Research, do you have any advice for entrepreneurs as to what factors you considered before you set off on your own? 

DK: The biggest piece of advice I would give to people considering that leap is to: 

1. Understand the market you're getting into and the demand for what you’re going to be offering. Talk with people in your field who are already operating independently or who are going to potentially hire you. Before I left my salary behind, I had several large projects lined up and confidence that more would follow. Leading up to that leap, I made sure that my clients knew that I was going to make my own business my full-time commitment. People take you and your business more seriously when they know you’re committed. Clients trust you with larger projects when you demonstrate that you trust yourself.

2. Understand how businesses pay their bills. An unfortunate but ever-increasing trend is for companies to pay on net 30, 60, 90 or even 120-day terms in some cases. Larger companies are notorious for this. Have a good liquid cash reserve ready and a credit line to boot if you’re going to go after these clients. It takes time to develop customers. At least in our industry, it can take months between meeting a new client and cashing a check. Cut your personal expenses as low as you can, and build up your runway. Desperate entrepreneurs make bad decisions. Avoid putting yourself in that situation with good financial planning.

3. There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility that comes with running your own business. It requires discipline to sustain. If you need to take an afternoon off to run errands or just need a mental health day, you can and should do it. Take a break and breathe. The personality type that opens up their own shop is usually someone who loves what they do, works crazy hard at it, and is prone to overcommitment. I know this because I’m surrounded and inspired by them every day. Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a discipline. Your company needs and deserves good leadership, so take care of yourself. The work will never end, but that doesn't mean you should never take a break.


TA: How do you see Velocity Research’s role in the freelance economy?


DK: Taking a step back from the ins and outs of our agency, it’s important to draw some context around what the gig economy is making possible for professionals of all walks. I’ve found that when people think about freelancing, they normally tend to think of the creative professions like writing, photography, or illustration. These are the fields that have always required a high mix of projects and clients to sustain and that access to variety is critical. Freelancing was never limited to the creative professions, but we’re trying to open it up wider for other industries too. The most passionate professionals are drawn to running their own business and we’re here to help them do that.

Companies like Airbnb, Uber, Shipt, Upwork, Fiverr, have all made it possible for anyone to start earning through this digitally-connected economy, but the most important thing that they have achieved in my view is shifting society to be comfortable accessing a human pool of talent digitally and quickly. There’s a large amount of trust required on the consumers’ part with these services, and that trust needs to be respected and taken very seriously.

While those companies have pioneered that interaction model, Velocity Research is aiming at going the next step beyond and offering high-quality professional services from local people doing what they love. Now that businesses (and the humans who run them) are comfortable purchasing services this way, we’re expanding the options available to them with an emphasis on quality local talent. Companies have a lot of options to choose from when selecting who they work with. Velocity is focusing on being the best option for companies who also want to support their community and the humans who live here.

TA: The topic of mentorship is something we hear often but for many local entrepreneurs finding a good fit can be a challenge. Any advice on finding that person?

DK: Put out into the universe that you are looking for mentorship, and have a good idea for the skill sets that you want to develop. I have multiple mentors for the different parts of myself that I’m trying to improve. You’ll find that people genuinely enjoy helping those starting out and it’s rewarding for everyone involved. 

For entrepreneurs in West Michigan, SCORE offers free face-to-face and digital counseling for businesses from retired business owners volunteering their time.

TA: Were there any programs (or websites) tied to startups that you found beneficial in your journey to this moment? 

DK: There are a ton of services and subscriptions targeted at budding businesses. Keep an eye on your subscription costs because they creep up quickly.

Hubspot CRM has been fantastic for our business, and you get a lot of functionality in the free version (there’s a steep price jump for more functionality though). For managing relationships, following up on leads, delegating tasks, and tracking measurable metrics has proven fantastic. My desk is still littered with Post-it notes of things to remember, but Hubspot has helped me manage a lot of it. It’s also where I was introduced to inbound marketing, and they practice what they preach. It’s a fantastic and universal tool for any business. I highly recommend it.

G-suite from Google also works great. Many people are familiar with Gmail now, and the business pricing is still pretty competitive and full-featured. I haven't found anything better and we’re always looking.

Amazon Web Services is great for hosting your website. If you’re a little technically inclined, you can get a WordPress site launched for free for a year and only $3/month after. 

TA: Our region is beginning to offer more and more entrepreneurial resources, but navigating all of them while nurturing the seed of an idea can be daunting. Looking back on what you have experienced over the last couple of years, are there any entrepreneur support organizations or other groups who helped contributed a positive impact for your journey? 

DK: The human side of business is the most interesting and meaningful for me, and in my case that was having a support system of like-minded people. I found that at Little Space Studio. I knew that I wanted to have my own business, but didn't think it would be possible until I was in my 40s at the earliest. The community there helped me see that it was possible now and encouraged me every step of the way. They were also an invaluable resource when if came time to seeing how things are done on the other side of the employee/owner relationship.

It’s important to surround yourself with the right kind of people and influences. When you see every day what business owners are doing and how they’re doing it, you can pick things up extremely fast and learn from their experience.

TA: We discussed earlier in our audio interview about how you have found a “home” via Little Space Studio’s Pilot Program. Based on your experience with them, who do you believe would be an ideal candidate to consider the next steps with this newish co-working space for creatives?

DK: To start, I don’t think there’s any wrong candidate. There are several businesses that call Little Space home, but anyone who’s looking for a place to work on anything is welcome and encouraged.

For entrepreneurs trying to grow or explore a new business, my experience has been that the space is geared toward people who are energized by community. The studio is very fluid in terms of layout and workflow and it can mold into what you need it to be. If you need to get a little messy or spread out for the day, this space is perfect. 

It’s also important to note that the Little Space community doesn’t only extend to people using the workspace or growing businesses. The Heartside neighborhood meetings are hosted here: Coffee with Cops, Machine Learning Meetups, Virtual Reality nights, Avenue for the Arts meetings, Intro to Coding, all kinds of incredible initiatives and people come through Little Space Studio.
 
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