I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce for their Making It In The South Sound podcast. Here’s the full interview below or you can subscribe to the podcast here: https://rss.com/podcasts/miitss/
Thank you for tuning in to Making It In The South Sound, the Chamber’s podcast series, bringing you stories and information about and for the South Sound business community. This podcast series is made possible through the support of our generous sponsors, Amazon, Columbia Bank, Minority Business Development Agency, and Verizon Wireless.
Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us. I’m Andrea Ray, President and CEO of the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber. Today I’m here with Wade Stewart, the Founder and Managing Member of Tech Masters Computer Services, Tech Masters has hit a milestone this year, making it to their 10th year in business. And might I add, they’ve been a chamber member for all of those 10 years. Congratulations, Wade.
Thank you so much.
That’s definitely cause for celebration. Wade has been a very active chamber member. He’s a former chamber board member. And he’s been a host for our South Sound Business Roundtable. In addition to his business and community responsibilities, he’s also a prolific writer, producing a blog, a monthly tech newsletter, and even a book entitled Personal Retreat based on his experiences as a business owner, and the challenges he faced early on in his career, always helpful and always filled with insightful advice. Wade Stewart, thank you for joining us on making it in the South Sound.
Well, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I sure appreciate it.
We really appreciate you taking the time to be here today. I want to start with just talking a little bit more about Tech Masters. You’ve been in business for 10 years, how did it start? Where did you begin?
So we started, like many businesses do as a spare room in my house. And it grew much faster than I had planned on, which leads to its own kinds of problem.
It’s a good problem to have, but still a problem.
Absolutely. We grew, I had planned on hiring people in about 18 months, and I was forced to within about eight. And we had 30% quarter over quarter growth in the first year, which very quickly made it so that it was time to move out of the house and into a lease space there and university place at a time.
That’s amazing. So yeah, that planning and scalability is is always a challenge, you seem like you were able to overcome those challenges pretty easily by finding you know, new additional space. Any other challenges other than just that, you know, ramped up start time for everything, just really going fast with having to scale up so quickly.
It it, I wasn’t prepared for a number of things. And I had worked with the score some insights into what I should be preparing for. But what I wasn’t aware of is I’m gonna need some help. And so I was able, through networking, in chambers, I was able to find an excellent business coach, who not only helped me prepare my business for employees, but became very successful with them too. We had a followed a strict guideline of how to how to plan for it and how to execute it. And it just, I can’t imagine not doing getting some help. And something like that, that I miss didn’t necessarily know anything about.
I appreciate that. Yeah, I always say your network is your net worth. And relationship building is so crucial for the success of of all of our businesses. So I’m so glad to hear that that was something that happened through your chamber membership. That’s really great. Fantastic. And of course, talking about scalability, you’ve expanded, you know, into other states, you know, outside of of Washington State, what kind of prompted that desire. And maybe you can talk to us a little bit about where else you’re doing business.
The interesting thing about a business is there’s ebbs and flows to it. And we had a certain ebb and that lasted a good eight months or so. And I was keen on continuing to grow the business because I had certain goals. And I found I came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to grow the business was to find a new location in which to do it in. So we opened an office in Portland and started adding some clients. Of course, by the time we added the second client business started ramping up in Tacoma again. And so we’ve had to flex a little bit back and forth but luckily Portland was pretty close. And it’s been easy to kind of adapt to that. And we’re well established here. So we can leverage a lot of the resources we have here in Portland without actually being there. Which is another thing that the pandemic taught us is we can do an awful lot without having to physically be somewhere,
Right? Just that flexibility that technology can offer, especially in your line of business does make it accessible, you know, in a way that is unique and exciting. What challenges did you experience with moving your business, you know, to another state, you know, how does that just impact your, you know, your, your finances and your, your budgeting and your planning with, with running now, you know, one business but you know, multiple locations and different states? How does, how has that changed or been a challenge?
The important thing was to understand what our potential risks and threats were to doing something like that, there’s licensing and taxation and things that you have to keep in mind. So it was most important for us to understand what it is that we had to prepare for, and then come up with some strategies around it. And, and one of them was that virtual, you know, being there virtually, we only had to send somebody down to Portland, once a week, or maybe even once a month sometimes. And we could do everything else remotely. So that made the process so much easier. And so that was that was huge for us. And, you know, we’ve took a lot of those lessons also into the pandemic as well. And, and it’s really helped us a lot.
Yeah, absolutely. I think the pandemic has shifted forever, in many ways how people do business and approach business, certainly that that virtual in that remote capacity, are there other ways that the pandemic impacted your business or affected you or caused you to make other other changes?
In a huge, huge ways. One of the wind when I built the business, we lived in a world where we would have IT staff going on site quite often. And we would be engaged in projects, that the pandemic introduced some economic challenges as well as movement challenges. So the way we had our pricing model was based around doing stuff at client sites, which comprise 60% of our revenue. Well, that vanished in the pandemic, and all of a sudden, we saw a huge reduction in our revenues. And, you know, thank goodness for PPP and all the other things. So it gave us the flexibility to adapt and change our model to still deliver good service remotely, and do it for as close to the same amount of money and not have to raise rates too much. Although we’re, we have another whammy with the inflation, right? So it’s been a constant. But the important thing to do was to pick a good price point, and be able to forecast it to last through some rough spots. And I believe we did that. And I don’t see us making any big pricing changes, knock on wood, or for at least a couple of years. That’d be great.
Right? I know, the business community values, predictability, and reliability above all else. And man, these last couple years, you know, there has not been a lot that has been predictable or reliable. And truly the only constant is change. And so as a business owner, just being you know, so you know, quickly able to adapt, and, and pivot is huge to the success of your business. That sounds like that was just a key focus for you.
It really was and you know, looking back on that time, and when the Chamber was having these weekly meetings, actually multiple times a week that we were that we were getting information about that I attended every single one, it was incredibly helpful, because I’m a planner. I need to know what’s going on. I’m not going to stick my head in the sand. And I feel like that benefited us tremendously.
That’s great. I like to think that the chamber is often an information laundering service. And so I’m so glad that the information you received through those rapid response events was good and helped you to be successful with your business. That’s fantastic. I want to talk a little bit about your book. Again, it’s titled Personal Retreat: Helping You Define Your Success. What is a personal retreat? Maybe we could just start there.
So a personal retreat is kind of like what we see is a business retreat where, you know, the old classic, you get a facilitator, you get a whole lot of post it notes, you get a whiteboard, and everybody sits down and comes up with values and meaning isn’t all these kinds of things and maybe redefines the mission statement. That’s the gist of it, but just for yourself, and it might relate to yourself personally, or it might represent the role you have in your business. Oftentimes, at least with me, business owners have a certain relationship with that business that really isn’t the same as everybody else’s. That’s a very personal place to be, you know, to work through. So that’s, that’s the gist of the personal retreat.
I love that idea. It’s just taking that time to do a little bit of a deeper dive and introspection, you know, personally, and then focus on what that connection personally is to your business. That’s, that’s fantastic. And so, when you recommend, you know, personal retreats, you know, for other business owners, you know, what do you recommend you do you take a day, you know, I guess, you know, the, the answer is buy your book and find out because I’m sure you probably walk everyone through it, right.
It’s meant to be a how to guide. I had run into challenges in my business where, you know, we have our heads down all the time, just working, working, working. And as a little story, I tell him the book where if you just have your head down, and you’re putting flagstones down to get to your, the front door from the sidewalk, and if you don’t look up, you could find yourself making a path to the garage instead. So the personal retreat, this personal retreat gives a business owner a chance to think about where they’re going, how they’re getting, they’re setting reasonable goals, and, and getting there on their own. Because, of course, we built our businesses on our own, we want to, we want to fulfill the whole thing on our own. So this was, I felt like this was a great add for a business owner.
That’s fantastic. And nothing’s more personal than your business. Right? I think that a lot of times we say like, oh, it’s not personal. It’s just business. It’s not for the small business owner, right? Nothing is more personal than your business. Well, I would love to have you just wrap up with a few words and maybe encourage people or let us know, you know, where how we can purchase the book.
Sure. Well, the book is available on Amazon, you have only to look for The Personal Retreat, and you can mention Wade Stewart, and you’ll find me at the top of the list. There’s a second edition. So there’ll be a much prettier one of them that has a really decent strong book cover, and the other one’s even better. So go for that one. And it’s available on Kindle of course, so you can get all that. And then the website for the book is personalretreat.training. Kind of a unique URL there. So check it out.
Fantastic. Well, again, thank you so much. We’d really appreciate you taking the time to be with us here. And that does it for this episode of Making It In The South Sound. Again, thank you all for joining us. Episodes can be found on the Chamber’s website, www.Tacomachamber.org Look for the link on the homepage and in the top menu. You can listen to Making It In The South Sound directly on our website. Or better yet, subscribe to them and never miss an episode. We want to again thank our sponsors. Their generous commitment makes this series possible. Amazon Columbia Bank, the Minority Business Development Agency and Verizon Wireless. Thank you and watch for future episodes coming soon.